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calendar   Thursday - July 18, 2013

Meh, plus making infinite tasks take only seconds

Sorry, not much from me right now. I’m trying to get a whole bunch of things done here, all sorts of stuff that got set aside when I was sick.





Interesting sort of news on that license plate scanning story. Once upon a time, when I was studying computers in college, in a brutally difficult course on algorithm analysis, I got introduced to Aleph Zero, the concept of countable infinity. Countable. Infinity. I know, right? Anyway, the concept applies to computer programs that are actual algorithms - which are defined as repetitive but finite processes - that would simply run until the end of time before they finished. And that’s my first thought about the license plate scanning story: given a few dozen million traffic cams or cop car mounted scanners, it would take forever to plot the movement history of all the tens of millions of cars in the USA.

But on second thought, I learned about old Aleph Zero when a red hot PC ran at around 66Mhz. 10x faster is 660Mhz. 100x faster is 6.6Ghz, about twice the speed of today’s best desktop machine. But while today’s PC is about 50 times faster, it also has up to 8 subprocessing units in it, and since this plate searching thing is pretty much a linear task, any one of those could handle the job for one license plate at a time. So figure that a good PC can do 400 times (50x8) the work that a machine from back then can do.  Still, Aleph Zero divided by 400 still equals Aleph Zero; that kind of power increase doesn’t make a dent in infinity. Scalar (4) times 2 orders of magnitude (10x10=100) isn’t much.

But if we move beyond the mundane world of personal computers, countable infinity starts to take a beating. The Chinese admit to having a supercomputer that churns data as fast as 338 MILLION modern PCs. Keyword: admit. Take a guess what they really have, and aren’t telling you. And do you think that our own NSA is far behind? Or more likely, far ahead and not saying a word? We already know about the phone call and email tapping stuff. And now folks have figured out that all those CCTV cameras can feed facial recognition software ... in real time. So, is keeping track of where everyone is in their cars at all times still a finite, countably infinite, effectively impossible task? Let’s take a fast look at the math.

Pull a number out of your hat, or whatever hypothetical guess storage device you use. Guess that the task of tracking all the cars every day would take about 100,000 years of computation on an old PC, each and every day. Now make a tiny assumption, that the NSA has supercomputers (how many? LOTS!) a decent step faster than the ChiComs admit theirs are. Call it 500 million times faster. 500,000,000 faster than today’s PC, which itself does 400 times as much work as the 66Mhz machine from 1993. Ignore that factor of 400 entirely for now. 500 million is a scalar of 5 followed by 100,000,000 - 9 orders of magnitude. So the 100,000 year task - which is 36,525,000 days including leap years gets divided by 500,000,000, and we get 0.07305 days, which is just 1 hour and 45 minutes. Now let’s factor in Modern PC against Old PC, so we divide 1.75 hours - 105 minutes - by 400. And the answer comes up 0.26298 minutes, or just under 16 seconds. Aleph Zero is dead: one of NSA’s supercomputers by itself can keep track of the whereabouts of every car in the USA just 16 seconds behind realtime. Well, given a nearly continuous data feed from all those scanners. If they check in any less often than that, say once every 30 seconds, then NSA can easily stay just one update behind, which is as close to realtime as anything other than a targeted missile strike will ever need. So be aware: it can be done.

Driving somewhere? There’s a gov’t record of that

Chances are, your local or state police departments have photographs of your car in their files, noting where you were driving on a particular day, even if you never did anything wrong.

Using automated scanners, law enforcement agencies across the country have amassed millions of digital records on the location and movement of every vehicle with a license plate, according to a study published Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union. Affixed to police cars, bridges or buildings, the scanners capture images of passing or parked vehicles and note their location, uploading that information into police databases. Departments keep the records for weeks or years, sometimes indefinitely.

As the technology becomes cheaper and more ubiquitous, and federal grants focus on aiding local terrorist detection, even small police agencies are able to deploy more sophisticated surveillance systems. While the Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that a judge’s approval is needed to track a car with GPS, networks of plate scanners allow police effectively to track a driver’s location, sometimes several times every day, with few legal restrictions. The ACLU says the scanners assemble what it calls a “single, high-resolution image of our lives.”

The license plate readers alert police to an automobile associated with an investigation, “but such instances account for a tiny fraction of license plate scans, and too many police departments are storing millions of records about innocent drivers,” the ACLU said.

“Private companies are also using license plate readers and sharing the information they collect with police with little or no oversight or privacy protections. A lack of regulation means that policies governing how long our location data is kept vary widely,” the ACLU said.

The civil liberties group is advocating legislation regulating the use of the technology.

The readers have been proliferating at “worrying speed” and are typically mounted on bridges, overpasses and patrol cars, the ACLU said.

The devices use high-speed cameras, and the software analyzes the photographs to retrieve the plate number, the group said.

The system then runs the data against “hot lists” of plate numbers and produces an instant alert when a match, or “hit,” registers, the group said. The hot lists include the National Crime Information Center file, which includes stolen cars and vehicles used in the commission of a crime.

“License plate readers would pose few civil liberties risks if they only checked plates against hot lists and these hot lists were implemented soundly. But these systems are configured to store the photograph, the license plate number, and the date, time, and location where all vehicles are seen — not just the data of vehicles that generate hits,” the ACLU report said.

The growing collection of data allows police to create “a single, high-resolution image of our lives,” and the constant monitoring “can chill the exercise of our cherished rights to free speech and association,” the group said.

The “good news” here is that without the computing power of the federal government, tracking all vehicles or even one of them goes right back to being an Aleph Zero algorithm. In other words, your local town or county will never be able to afford the cost of the top-end computers that have the power to do the job. Phew. Of course, the bad news part of that good news is that all it takes is your local po-po streaming the data to the feds. And my goodness, given both the nationalization and militarization of police departments across the country since 9/11, and all of those “walls” Jamie Gorlick spent so much time building coming crashing down thanks to the Patriot Act and other bits of Big Brother legislation ... you’d never ever think your local donut eaters would be passing along data like this. Not them, not ever!

Think again.

So, shouldn’t this pretty much put an instant end to crime? Between the drones and the CCTV and the NSA, wouldn’t the Forces Of Goodness pretty much be able to track anything and anyone and thus capture the bad guys right away? Well no. To do that, we need to have a CCTV camera on every corner, every quarter mile or so on every road.  And a whole army of citizens to target the analysis. Which would cost trillions. Which would cost $Aleph Zero dollars. But it’s for the chiiiildren, and think of how many jobs that would create or save!!!11!


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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 07/18/2013 at 12:30 PM   
Filed Under: • Computers and CyberspaceCrimeGovernment •  
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