Why Was a Philly Police Truck Disguised As a Google Street View Car?

Photo by Dustin Slaughter/VICE Motherboard

Philadelphia journalist Dustin Slaughter had a weird story for VICE’s tech channel Motherboard yesterday. A Penn professor noticed that there was a truck rigged with license-plate reading technology parked near the Convention Center, and it was dressed up like a Google Street View vehicle.

License-plate reading cameras can take loads of pictures in rapid succession, which, as Slaughter notes, theoretically would allow law enforcement to track the movements of people who aren’t under investigation. At first, nobody was claiming ownership of the vehicle, which was registered under the city’s fleet, and Google said it had no idea why its logo was being used.

Later, the Philadelphia Police Department admitted that it owned the van, but said it hadn’t approved the use of the Google disguise. Police told Slaughter they had opened an investigation into the matter.

First question: Um, what? This sounds like the kind of trumped-up thing that would be on Alex Jones’s libertarian conspiracy-theory website Infowars, except it was on Infowars, and it’s real.

Why disguise the van at all? That’s like wearing a fake mustache and glasses to try to sneak into the movie theater. It just draws more attention to yourself.

Police officials did not return phone calls or emails from Philly Mag on Thursday.

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