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Hacked Border Surveillance Firm Wants To Profile Drivers, Passengers, and Their “Likely Trip Purpose” In New York City

Published: July 10, 2019
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Source: The Intercept

Just months before millions of its internal documents were stolen and dumped on the internet, the Tennessee-based surveillance company Perceptics was preparing to pitch New York’s transit authority on how it could help enforce impending “congestion pricing” rules, according to leaked documents reviewed by The Intercept. The pitch, as outlined in the files, went well beyond mere toll enforcement and into profiling New Yorkers’ travel patterns and companions, creating what experts describe as major privacy risks.

Congestion pricing, on the face of it, doesn’t seem like it would present a privacy risk — it’s a traffic policy, after all, not some new NYPD initiative. The plan is to essentially tax the cars that clog Manhattan’s streets and route the proceeds to public transportation, providing both a deterrent against and palliative for traffic. There won’t be any congestion pricing toll booths: The fee will be assessed automatically and electronically, potentially by photographing the license plates of passing cars and sending the plate owner a bill in the mail. This requires cameras running around the clock, dutifully recording every car that comes and goes. And this, Perceptics claims, is where the company truly shines.

According to an internal presentation released by the Perceptics hacker and reviewed by The Intercept, the company pitched New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, or MTA, in February of this year on how Perceptics’ car-scanning camera arrays, already deployed and honed in areas like the Mexican border and an assortment of U.S. military installations, could help the MTA track down drivers. It’s unknown how the plan was received by the MTA, which administers public transit, bridges, and tolls for New York City and some of its surrounding suburbs, but leaked Perceptics emails show that the company shipped camera hardware to the MTA’s Bridges and Tunnels division for a live demonstration.

Perceptics did not respond to a request for comment. An MTA spokesperson told The Intercept that “all details are still to be determined” regarding congestion pricing enforcement.

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JUST MONTHS BEFORE millions of its internal documents were stolen and dumped on the internet, the Tennessee-based surveillance company Perceptics was preparing to pitch New York’s transit authority on how it could help enforce impending “congestion pricing” rules, according to leaked documents reviewed by The Intercept. The pitch, as outlined in the files, went well beyond mere toll enforcement and into profiling New Yorkers’ travel patterns and companions, creating what experts describe as major privacy risks.

One of the key fears that critics of mass surveillance and the proliferation of facial recognition technology have warned about has been realized with new reporting Monday that a "malicious cyber attack" has resulted in photos of airport passengers and other personal data harvested by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol being stolen by unknown actors.

The breach happened at one of the agency’s subcontractors, officials said. CBP wouldn’t name the subcontractor nor disclose the number of images stolen. Customs and Border Protection officials on Monday said personal information the agency collected on travelers was exposed in “a malicious cyber-attack.”... The New York Times reported somewhere between 10,000 and 100,000 images were stolen in the breach. However, the agency declined to comment on how many images were leaked and whether the travelers involved in the breach were U.S. citizens.

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