The cops used the vehicle to scan license plates.
Google Maps vehicles photographing the streets are an occasional sight on the roads throughout the U.S, but the Philadelphia Police Department keeps an eye on citizens by taking advantage of people’s indifference towards these camera-toting models. Motherboard recently unearthed the story of how authorities in Philly used an SUV with Google Maps decals (not pictured above) to collect license plate images from a potentially huge number of vehicles there.
A photo first showed the SUV with Google Maps stickers on the windows near the Philadelphia Convention Center. However, a closer inspection revealed the vehicle didn't really work for the tech giant. Instead, it had a registration as being part of the city's fleet. Philly's police department eventually admitted it owns this license-plate scanning SUV.
Plate scanning is controversial in the US for privacy reasons, but it's not illegal. Police departments and other authorities use the cameras to photograph several vehicles each second, and they log each one's location. The vast majority of these people are completely innocent drivers who are just doing their daily routine. However, law enforcement claims the tech allows them to find stolen cars, rescue kidnapped children, and identify folks with outstanding tickets.
If the cops aren't doing anything against the law with this SUV, why dress it up as a Google Maps vehicle? Even the police aren't entirely sure of that. “The placing of any particular decal on the vehicle was not approved through any chain of command,” a spokesperson for the authorities told Motherboard. The department promised to launch an inquiry into what happened and had the decals removed.
Google shouldn't be too happy about this behavior, either. If the police start posing as the tech company, people could lose trust when they see the firm's mapping vehicles on the road.