For $20, a Digital Recognition Network (DRN) customer can look up any license plate in the United States. If there is a match, the program will show the last time one of the company's cameras captured the plate, including a photo and information about when and where the photo was taken. The company sells the data to businesses, such as auto lenders, insurance carriers, repossession agents, and private investigators, but it can also be accessed by law enforcement. With more than 9 billion license plate scans in its database, it's a vast tracking tool that holds a massive amount of power. Vice recently looked deeper into the company and detailed how it works.
According to DRN's website, "Our data helps lenders make right party contact to reduce charge-offs, insurers improve pricing at underwriting and claims investigations, and gives recovery agents the technology they need to recover more vehicles." So how does it do this? By taking photos of every car it can and logging them into a neatly organized database that makes surveillance and tracking simple.
DRN sells $15,000 ReaperHD Four Camera Kits mostly to repo men who install the devices onto their unmarked vehicles. In addition to alerting the agents of flagged vehicles, these cameras passively scan every single car and license plate they pass and note the time and location. DRN even provides further service for $70 that will alert a customer when a desired target is scanned. According to Vice, there are more than 600 vehicles throughout the U.S. that use these camera kits.
Vice also says there are more than 1,000 accounts with access to the DRN. Although DRN takes its information security seriously, there are easy ways for unauthorized people to access the information, such as people with access simply sharing the login information.
Although this type of technology and service is obviously extremely helpful for its intended uses, we can't help but be unnerved by the thought that our whereabouts under surveillance (not that phones and the internet don't already do so). Read more about the DRN on Vice.
If this feels like an egregious violation of privacy to you, you're not alone. A company called Adversarial Fashions makes clothing intended to throw off license plate scanners, bombarding them with worthless data.