High-Tech Policing – A New Technology to Violate Your Privacy

The American police are currently testing a new and rather intrusive vehicle monitoring technology. The Elsag EOC Plus system, developed by Leonardo, can scan moving cars to detect all devices emitting a signal, from smartphones to library books equipped with RFID chips.

It allows the identification of the exact models of phones and accessories in a car in a few seconds, tracks pets by their microchips, and even determines if the driver has borrowed the latest Stephen King book! The possibilities are endless, and a little scary. Each device emits a unique electronic signature, and by combining these signatures with the license plate number, a real fingerprint of the vehicle and its occupants is obtained. It’s like putting a camera in your car to know everything you are carrying.

ELSAG EOC Plus is an electronic surveillance system that combines license plate recognition (LPR) cameras with new sensor technology to help police find suspects through the devices they use. It correlates the electronic identities of consumer devices, like mobile phones and fitness trackers, with LPR data via common timestamps, creating an electronic footprint for that dataset.

While 30 out of every 100 cars might have iPhones, only one will have an iPhone 13rev2, an Audi radio, Bose headphones, a Garmin sports watch, a key locator, and the ABC-1234 license plate. The device captures the frequencies emitted by these devices into the air. Small consolation, it does not capture the content of the devices or their communications.

It can detect RFID tags like access cards, library books, product labels, pallet transmitters, and pet chips. It also picks up Bluetooth signals from phones, portable electronics, and headphones. Finally, it identifies vehicle components such as tire pressure sensors, safety sensors, infotainment systems, and Wi-Fi hotspots for vehicles, smartphones, tablets, and laptops.

Obviously, privacy advocates are in panic mode because they fear, rightly, that this technology will be used to track people without a warrant, learning everything about them from their wearables or the books they read. But Leonardo wants to be reassuring (no surprise there). They promise to collaborate with law enforcement to comply with the law and not collect too much data without permission. Yes, I’ve heard that before…

It’s a bit like putting an IMSI-Catcher on steroids in patrol cars. Instead of just sucking up data from nearby phones, it retrieves all the information from connected gadgets (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, radio components of the car) and everything that contains an RFID chip. Here’s a small non-exhaustive list of everyday objects that may contain RFID chips, so you can realize the extent of this:

  • Bank cards: Used for contactless payments.
  • Passports: Modern passports often contain RFID chips to store biometric information.
  • Access badges: Used to enter secure buildings.
  • Clothing labels: For inventory management and theft prevention in retail stores.
  • Library books: For tracking and managing borrowings.
  • Transportation cards: Such as metro or bus cards.
  • Baggage tags: To track baggage at airports.
  • Inventory labels: Used in warehouses for product tracking.
  • Festival or concert wristbands: To control access to events.
  • Pet tags: Implanted to identify lost pets.
  • Laptops and other electronic equipment: For asset management in companies.
  • Car tires: Some tires contain RFID chips for inventory tracking and management.
  • Electronic car keys: Used for keyless entry and starting.
  • Pharmaceutical products: To fight counterfeiting and ensure traceability.
  • Medical devices: To track usage and sterilization.
  • Loyalty cards: Used in stores to track customer loyalty points.
  • Student ID cards: For access to university buildings and other services.
  • Ski tickets: For access control to ski lifts.
  • Collectibles: To authenticate and track valuables.
  • Smartwatches and fitness bands: For tracking activities and payments.

The company claims it will be great because it will help find a stolen car or locate a suspect on the run. But as usual, it’s a question of balance between security and freedom, and here, I think we’re not there. Especially since the police would not be the only ones able to use this system. Leonardo is looking at potential customers in train stations or shopping centers, which would increase the density of the sensors at a lower cost because the license plate reader would not be necessary in these cases.

The system then stores all the data on servers where it can be queried and analyzed to help investigators or marketers… That way, you can find out who has the latest iPhone or who has a Castorama loyalty card just by scanning the car park!

Leonardo claims to have more than 4,000 customers for its Elsag license plate readers across the United States, so you can imagine the scale of the existing system and the potential integration of this new technology. Other competing technologies, such as those from Flock Safety, are also already being used in shopping malls and feed data directly to law enforcement agencies.

Personally, I think you have to stay vigilant and maybe invest in a good old Faraday cage for your car…^^ Well, it’s always better than going back to the Nokia 3310 and the K7 audio.


Mohamed SAKHRI
Mohamed SAKHRI

I'm the creator and editor-in-chief of Tech To Geek. Through this little blog, I share with you my passion for technology. I specialize in various operating systems such as Windows, Linux, macOS, and Android, focusing on providing practical and valuable guides.

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