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Police camouflage surveillance truck as Google Maps van

Technically Incorrect: Philadelphia police admit that one of their surveillance trucks masqueraded as one of Google's. It had a Google Maps logo on its side window.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


Its intentions seem clear. Except they're not.

Matt Blaze/Twitter screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

I bring good news.

If you live in Philadelphia and you're concerned that Google's Street View vans are spying on you, relax.

It might merely be your friendly local police instead.

I deduce this after Matt Blaze, a University of Pennsylvania assistant professor of computer and information science, tweeted a photograph of a van that had a Pennsylvania Police Department placard and a Google Maps logo on its window.

As Motherboard reports, he espied it near the Philadelphia Convention Center. It was equipped with two sophisticated license-plate readers on its roof.

Why, though, would the police wish to pretend -- and so obviously -- that one of its surveillance vehicles was actually just mapping the roads for Google?

Neither the Philadelphia Police Department nor Google responded to requests for comment.

But the police department did issue this statement to Motherboard: "We have been informed that this unmarked vehicle belongs to the police department. However, the placing of any particular decal on the vehicle was not approved through any chain of command. With that being said, once this was brought to our attention, it was ordered that the decals be removed immediately."

The department added that it is investigating what might have happened.

Police spokesman Lt. John Stanford told NBC Philadelphia that his officers were "being creative." Is that as in "creative with the truth"?

What of Google, though? One might imagine it would be outraged that its auspices had been co-opted by the police. The ELSAG MPH-900 equipment mounted on the truck is highly efficient and can capture many license plates simultaneously. That's not the sort of thing Google would wish to be involved in, surely.

There again, we're all being surveilled multiple times by multiple organizations. Some police forces have reportedly used Stingray devices, which pretend to be cell towers but actually monitor all calls within the vicinity, without a warrant.

And Google, Facebook and the rest follow us around the Web like men in beige coats and shades, wanting to know about our likes and behaviors.

We're trapped.

How odd, though, that a police force would want to pretend that we're trapped by Google rather than the authorities. Doesn't that show a slight lack of self-worth?

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