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Has Santa Monica Place gone too far with its new parking lot surveillance system?

Find your car

The new souped-up Santa Monica Place mall recently unveiled its latest bell-and-whistle: A "Find Your Car" system that uses surveillance cameras to help shoppers locate their vehicle should they forget where they parked. It's a nifty service, and the first of its kind in the U.S., but it has raised privacy concerns. From Martha Groves' article, "Servant or snoop in the parking garage?":  

Under U.S. law, the entity taking the video owns it and can largely use or share it however it likes as long as the video is taken in public. There is, however, a difference between being allowed to share and being required to share. Police do have the power to compel the owner of the video to share it, usually through a subpoena.


"What should give people pause is that this technology is advancing upon us without anyone having chosen it," said Steven Aftergood, a senior research analyst at the Federation of American Scientists, which studies national security issues. "We have not decided as a society or as individuals that we want this convenience. It is being thrust upon us."

That's true, though having cameras in the mall parking lot is pretty inconsequential if you look at the big picture. We already live in a surveillance society. Walk across the street from Santa Monica Place to the pier and chances are Dr. Mark Berman's webcam is going to catch you. Look up your address on Google Maps and you'll see a closeup of your house and most likely your car, too. Walk through the scanner at the airport and have a perfect stranger (in a TSA uniform) get a good look at your unclothed essence. And how about shopping on Amazon, where cookies track your every click so that the Web store can sell to you based on previous purchases?  

But it's not just Big Brother who's watching us from the center of the Panopticon. We hold just as many cards. Forget the voyeuristic appeal of reality TV. In the very real world, anyone with an ounce of technological savvy can become Harriet the Spy. Beyond looking up old boyfriends on Facebook, people can use apps such as iSpy to monitor surveillance cameras around the world in real time. Why that would be appealing, I have no idea, but  "Studio 360" reporter Eric Molinsky  rather enjoys it.  And you want to talk about privacy gone awry -- what about WikiLeaks, which is all about exposing supposedly private conversations among people in government?

For better and for worse, this is the society we live in now. And within that context, the mall's car-finder is hardly a big deal -- and I'm not just saying that because I'm one of those people who'll most likely take advantage of the new service.


Shut up and be scanned

Can George Clooney's surveillance system help curb conflict in Sudan?

-- Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: Andrea Minnich of San Pedro uses a "Find Your Car" kiosk at Santa Monica Place. Credit: Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times


Comments () | Archives (15)

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Whats the big deal? No one ever expects privacy in a parking lot!

Whowants Toknow

Posted by: syscom3 | January 24, 2011 at 09:26 PM "Whats the big deal? No one ever expects privacy in a parking lot!"

Seriously? No one?

I do expect it. Especially if I need to pee. Not only do I expect it, I feel I am entitled to it. And who died and left you in charge of the rest of the country?? syscom3 is a funny name, what's your real name? And your address. You don't expect privacy, do you?


It seems like a wonderful idea, especially if there is a medical or emergency reason, if one forgets to take notice of where one parked. On the other hand, I can understand how some may want their privacy protected. Like other things in life, there are advantages and disadvantages. It might be nice to have a full time job or enough work to go shopping in Santa Monica. The underemployed/unemployed hope for $$$ for necessities. Happy shopping.


In 20 years there will be an official log on where you went all day.

You have nothing to hide, so why be concerned?


I like the fact that the article told us how to defeat the system. The lady with the new car (no plates), was "Out of Luck" to use the system. Well, I am going to carry with me a blank magnet that is the the size of my license plate, and put it on when I get into the Mall.. No problems for me.


Does the American public not realize that our rights - and that includes the right to privacy - are slowly being taken away? This is just another example. Wake up and stop being so apathetic to what's going on around you! Cameras are all about us every which way. Big Brother is watching. "1984" has been with us a long time and there's no end in sight. And, no, I'm not being paranoid.


I will never understand how people are so willing to give up so much of their privacy and then justify it because they are too dam lazy to remember where their car is parked??? But then again look at the typical driver in Los Angeles...most should never be allowed behind the wheel of a car. Now I have to worry who is recording where I park to shop? The first time I sense any junk mail sent to me as a result of the "spying" done by the new Santa Monica Place I will jump on the first "class action law suit" bandwagon...and I hate law suits! How is this going to play out for shoppers "and" employees who have to park in the Santa Monica Place parking structures. Better believe the hiring applications for each tenant better warn the employee ahead of time that if employed they are giving permission to be spyed on. So many will laugh at concern over this. Those are the people who never ran a shopping center and don't know what is done with information that is gathered on unsuspecting shoppers. I know how the info was used just a few years ago...and the developers/owners imaginations have no limits as to what they will attempt to do with collected information. Most survailance systems in a shopping center are run/monitored by the so called "rent a cop" security staff. Many are very good but there will "ALWAYS" be a rouge employe that will use the systems for illegal purposes. Don't we read about this stuff everyday??? I foget, most Americans are too lazy to care anymore. One only has to look at the number of people that belong to Facebook....nobody knows how to communicate in person anymore. Face to face or live on a phone. Texting killed that skill. I'm definitly showing my age cause young people have no idea what they have given up just to have the lastest electrical gadget or convienence. Life depicted in the most elaborate SciFi movies is just around the corner. No more goverment by the people...just corporations

Eugene Omega Russell

I like the new system at Santa Monica Place Mall.Everyone must remember it take's time for people to settle into change and plus a lot of people do not know their (License)plate number Inorder to work the system.If everyone would just take the time to think about it. Santa Monica Place Mall is about to step into History making it the first future Mall of it's kind.

Fox Farm

I will never step my feet in Santa Monica ever again after reading this. I am taking my shopping and business elsewhere. (meaning where there are no intrusive cameras)

Availible User name

I think that we all gave up any expectation to public privacy the day that every person on earth under the age of 30 (or so it seems) became the owner of a phone with vidieo and internet. I, personally, am much more comfortable with having my plates stored on a mall data base then I would be with having a clip of me peeing in a parking garage on Tosh.0
...and trust me, I have never been shoping in Santa Monica, but I have peed in lots of parking lots.


Okay, let's see:

---One more invasion of privacy is okay because we already have lots of them. By that reckoning we shouldn't bother with laws against, say, shoplifting or mortgage fraud.

---Everybody does it, so who cares if a mall does it. So, for instance, we should never have bothered with civil rights because plenty of people are bigoted.

---The government's public servants, conducting public business, have the same "right to privacy" as a private individual going about their own business. Then why are government officials supposed to be accountable and keep records? I'm confused.

Are there any more fundamental errors this reporter would like to make? Why is someone with no grasp of the concept writing about privacy issues?


I don't know about you guys, but if someone stole my car from a parking lot, I would really like there to be video evidence to help me catch the guy.

pixie w

Well, considering how many people in SM lose their car in the parking lots, they ALL should have this!

m. parker

Assuming that the system automatically evaluates every license plate in the garage (or could), and temporarily putting aside the unnerving implications of non-human policing, it's nice that stolen cars can be recovered, cars identified on Amber Alerts could be spotted and -- less impressively -- that one could find a car after forgetting where it was parked.

On the other hand, the parking garage isn’t free, and the potential uses for the data collected by this system (as otherwise stated by the garage owners) seem at best exploitive and at worst sinister. It’s reasonable to believe that the technology could be used to build a database of drivers, their vehicles, race, age, gender, perhaps even identity. This kind of information has commercial value, but in this case the subjects aren’t exactly willing participants in any kind of survey. In fact, because the garage isn’t free, they’re paying to participate.

The involuntary tracking system is also a bit unsettling -- the garage knows where you are, and anyone with access to the garage's computer does too.

As for the argument that expectations of privacy went out the window with the advent of the mobile phone, purchase and use of a mobile phone is voluntary, and location services, etc., can be switched on and off at the user's discretion. Though it could be argued that entering a privately parking garage is a voluntary decision, I personally believe that parking a car so that you can spend money at a shopping center should not automatically enroll you in a surveillance program -- again, especially if you’re paying to park.

Ultimately, the issue I have with systems like this one is that someone or some group in the private sector, under the pretense of assisting consumers, is using mostly unaware individuals to collect information. For what purpose? If it was as simple as a good-natured way to help people find their cars, a security guard with a golf cart is a lot cheaper to install.


idk, while i'm a privacy supporter and i do think that 1984 has been around for a while i also understand that unless you're looking for a good place to smoke a bowl or meet with a mob informant than what are you worried about cameras in a parking garage for? I mean, how many assaults on women happened in parking areas? They are notoriously dangerous. And when it comes to other places where my privacy is invaded creatively (i.e.smartphones, internet, gps, onstar, etc) their are entities that used this technology to track and watch any of us they pleased for a long time now, and the technologies pervade everywher. Isn't it time you gave up direct resistance and started subverting the technology for your own purposes? I know that sounds like 'the sooner we adjust to thought controll the sooner we can use it on our spouses' but really, let's embrace the few ways in which surveillance tech actually benefits US, instead of just benefiting THEM.



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