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Finns To Use Cell Phones To Monitor Traffic Jams 155

Okko writes "The Finnish Road Administration announced it is going to use cellphone location data to find out about traffic jams. They say they are using the location data available from the GSM base stations to determine the locations and speeds of vehicles carrying mobile phones. The information will be used to inform people about traffic jams and peaks in traffic trough public FM radio stations. Until now, the information about traffic has been gathered using car sensors embedded in the roads. The spokesperson of FRA, interviewed in the evening news of MTV3 Finland, seemed very pleased they can monitor cell phones even when no calls are made, it is enough the phone has power on. They said they are about to use the information anonymously and thought people approve it as long as it is done in an anonymous and "everyone-wins" way. It was told they do not currently tell the police about the data they discover as the current law forbids this. So, it is not, at least yet, possible to fine people carrying mobile phones in their cars too fast on public roads (exceeding the speed limit of the road). Unfortunately, probably because of vacations, FRA has not updated their website accordingly yet. There does exist an annoucement about testing the technology from the summer. "
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Finns To Use Cell Phones To Monitor Traffic Jams

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  • by kousik ( 149219 ) <kousik@nandy.gmail@com> on Monday December 30, 2002 @09:06AM (#4980873) Journal
    Another [slashdot.org] slashdot story was flashed a while back (13/06/02), but that was pertaining to Scottish company.
  • just Great. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sanermind ( 512885 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @09:09AM (#4980886)
    ...I can see the day where an automated system can automatically flag and/or ticket you for exceeding the speed limit. Of course, they already have camera bases systems today, that photograph your license plate. And if the preponderance of technological competition in the radar-detector-detector-adnasuam world is any indication, there would soon enough be a market for phones that subtly altered the phase or seeming doppler profile of their signals to fool a single tower. Of course, if you show up at another tower 200Km away in 35 minutes, that would still be a little suspicious. ;)
    • I can see the day where an automated system can automatically flag and/or ticket you for exceeding the speed limit

      And on that day, the voting public will damn well have the speed limit to raised 140mph so they can continue to drive like maniacs on the NJ Turnpike.

    • Re:just Great. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by WPIDalamar ( 122110 )
      Don't think that would fly in the US ... here, speeding tickets are giving to individuals, not phones. The prosecuting attorney could prove my phone went 100mph, but not me. Maybe I lent it to someone else?
      • Good point.

        It's difficult to prove that you actually were in possession of the said cell phone (unless you of course call it: "Hey sir, you are speeding, please slow down." :-)

        But on the other hand, the whole discussion about how it would make speeding more difficult is a bit absurd. The speed limits were put in place for a purpose, and violating them is an offense. Nobody is objecting to the use of radars - so why would using a cell-phone based solution any different? All you really need is information that "someone is speeding" and his approximate location, and the police could take it from there... Automatic systems would however be open for all kinds of abuse :-)
        • It's also impossible to prove if you had just thrown your cell phone down the street because of your poor reception.
        • But on the other hand, the whole discussion about how it would make speeding more difficult is a bit absurd. The speed limits were put in place for a purpose, and violating them is an offense. Nobody is objecting to the use of radars - so why would using a cell-phone based solution any different?

          Er. At least here in Ohio it's entrapment for a police car to be clocking drivers if they aren't clearly at sight (e.g. driving-/tail lights off, hiding behind a wall.)

          Never ever underestimate the idiotic influence a great mass of people can have.

          I find all this but-they-shouldn't-be-allowed- to-know-if-I'm-speeding-if-I-can't-see-them-to- slow-down rationale completely ridiculous.
      • Re:just Great. (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Yep. At least here in Finland you have to record vehicle speed, stops and taken pauses with special device if you use a truck commercially. The police can fine you for not taking long enough pauses (since that's what they monitor with the system). However they also see when you have driven too fast (speed limit for trucks is 80 km/h, if you go faster than that you are always speeding) and they CAN'T fine you even though the device is delicate, once-a-year calibrated, and can be used to investigate speeds in accidents with unbelievable accuracy (given that it merely draws a line in a paper).

        So it's very unlikely that in Finland cell-phone tracking could be used when fining people for speeding. Serious crimes are a different story.
      • However, in New Jersey (and possibly other states?), if you own a vehicle seen passing a stopped school bus, the bus driver can write down your license plate. The police then will send a ticket via mail to the owner of the vehicle.

        In order to avoid prosecution (and a lot of points on your license), you must show that you were not the one driving. They then go ticket that person.

        There was also a case in New York where a car was seized and sold off by New York City due to someone other than the owner driving it drunk. The owner of the car appealed, since she was not expecting the driver to be where he was, or him driving drunk at all (he had no history of alchol abuse). She still lost the court case, as well as the car.

        Several states are considering and/or implementing similar laws.

        • However, in New Jersey (and possibly other states?), if you own a vehicle seen passing a stopped school bus, the bus driver can write down your license plate. The police then will send a ticket via mail to the owner of the vehicle.

          There is a big difference between loaning some your cell phone and loaning someone your car.
      • Don't think that would fly in the US ... here, speeding tickets are giving to individuals, not phones. The prosecuting attorney could prove my phone went 100mph, but not me. Maybe I lent it to someone else?

        This hasn't stopped american cities from using cameras for issuing red-light traffic violations. In San Francisco, it has been proven that those cameras have a 30% failure rate. When they first got started, a city technician would discard half of the pictures because they were bad, but now because of city budget cuts they stopped discarding those bad pictures, and they started issuing tickets regardless of doubt.

        Now, I understand we can all take a day off from work and protest those traffic violations, but the judges we have down here are not the most rational/principled human beings in the world and I would love to hear you give that excuse "May be someone else was driving?" to one of our judges.

        In any case, in theory there is no limit to the number of traffic violations that could be issued if everything was automated and unfortunatly there is a limit to the number of sick-days you can take off from work to protest those tickets.

      • What would be funnier if the system was completely automated with sanity checks...

        Imagine you rent a private plane and fly along a busy highway (and you leave your cell phone on)

        In the mail you get something like:

        "A citation has been issued because you were calculated going 215mph on rt. 495 at 4:34pm. The total charges come to $1043.33"
    • ...I can see the day where an automated system can automatically flag and/or ticket you for exceeding the speed limit. Of course, they already have camera bases systems today, that photograph your license plate.

      And this is a problem because... ? Really, if there is a reason to be speeding, then fine. Speed limits are there for a reason. If the speed limit is too long, it's the responsibility of the people to raise it.

      Besides, this would have to be enforced locally. If it is setup as a warning system to law enforcement that someone is going 90mph on I-278, have a cop stop him and ticket him. If you have a legal reason to be speeding, such as a medical emergency, then I'm sure it'll be up to the officer to determine what happens.

      Now if it were more private companies having access to the data, THAT I'd be more worried about.
      • And this is a problem because... ?

        I may be a passenger and not the driver.

        I may have loaned my phone to another.

        I may be flying over the freeway as a traffic reporter.

        I may be in the back of an ambulance rushing me to the hospital.

        I may be in a police cruiser on a ride-along.

        Simply to automatically ticket someone based on the calculated travelling speed of a device that may not even be in their possession is fraught with loopholes that even the lamest of attorneys could exploit.
        • Simply to automatically ticket someone based on the calculated travelling speed of a device that may not even be in their possession is fraught with loopholes that even the lamest of attorneys could exploit.

          Read my post again. I mention that a person (law) would get a signal to go stop someone who is speeding. So if my phone is travelling 90mph in my mother's car, she'd get the ticket. This is far from automatic.

          Wash,rinse, repeat.
      • The speed limits were put in place for a purpose

        Yes, mainly revenue generation. If safety were the primary goal they would be significantly higher (see the repeal of the national 55 mph limit, where the predicted bloodbath never materialized).

        Having said that, I wouldn't object to automated enforcement, *provided* the limits were set such that a driver exceeding them would actually be acting dangerously. This is nowhere near the case with the majority of speed limits today.

        • National speed limits? afaik, Tenessee has a speed limit of 65mph, while ny has one of 55. Is there some sorta federal speed limit or something? I thought it was state goverened.
    • This is the first I thinked just after reading the article. O well, another place where you must disconnect your phone: when driving
    • Of course, if you show up at another tower 200Km away in 35 minutes, that would still be a little suspicious

      200 Km in 35 minutes is suspicious? Must have low speed limits where you live... 100 Km/h is roughly 60 mph, which is well within the speed limit in much of the US.

      Of course, if you're talking residential neighborhoods that's another matter :)

      Oh, and if you say "fine, then 1000 Km" -- well, the phone company will simple disable your cell phone because it just triggered fraud detection. They've been doing that particular trick for a decade now.
  • by Moderation abuser ( 184013 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @09:10AM (#4980889)
    After all, nobody is going to believe that speeding information won't be passed to the police, despite any laws currently in place, therefore, they may well switch off their bloody phones rather than weave randomly across lanes of traffic when making or answering a call the way they do at the moment.

    • I'd be more interested what a person with a cell phone and a directional antenna in a remote area would do to this "speed sensing" algorithm. Remote areas make people do funny things.

      "Yes your honor, we tracked him traveling 450mph down the interstate.

      "Its impossible he was sitting on his living room couch at the time. We have the data right here."
      • This is GSM, not CDMA. It has a limit on the timing advance which puts a well defined limit on the "remoteness". As a result people do not use directed antennas at all.
    • Actually the Road Administration has already been videotaping and checking vehicle speeds at certain locations on major roads for years. I haven't heard of a single case where that data had leaked to the police.

      And of course, beginning 1.1.2003 the use of mobile phones in cars while driving becomes illegal, hands-free system required.
    • Not in Finland. They have plenty of precedents of telling the police to go screw themselves under similar circumstamnces. In other words they are a civilised country (civilised does not mean pleasant to live in, you should see their liquor prices).
    • Please notice that this is in Finland. I happen to live in Finland and I can tell you that they probably won't do it.

      This country has strong roots in ultimate bureaucrazy, which also happens between different organisations of the government. Whether it is god or bad, I don't really know.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    The trouble with relying on laws to prevent government abuse, is that it's the government which has the power to change those laws. Give them the technical capability to violate your privacy, and sooner or later they will do so, possibly in ways not to your liking...eg., the Japanese Americans who trusted the legal safeguards on census data, then got rounded up during WWII.
    • Good point about the Japanese Americans trusting safeguards. Of course we all know it's happening today as well to middle eastern men. [ccmep.org]

      The fact is you cannot limit your use of technology without sacrificing huge amounts of convenience (and constantly explaining to people why you only communicate through carrier pidgeon). The only thing you can do is trust that the Foxes in the administration aren't out to get you. Unfortunately, the current administration [whitehouse.org] treats civil liberties like an obstacle rather than a goal. This is frightening.

      If you're saying this doesn't affect you, ask yourself if you feel comfortable doing a google search on "Athiest Cookbook" or "Mosques" or "jihad". Doesn't that make you wince just a little about the flags that may be set off somewhere. Now imagine you're an arab american, a full blown citizen, thinking about doing the same queries. Intellectual curiosity is being stifled and everyone is living in fear to some degree because of our own government.
      What can we do about it? Damned if I know. Donate to the ACLU. Don't vote the US Department of Faith [whitehouse.org] into office again. Write your congressman. ;)

  • by Oculus Habent ( 562837 ) <(oculus.habent) (at) (gmail.com)> on Monday December 30, 2002 @09:11AM (#4980891) Journal
    There shouldn't be any problems as long as the system remains anonymous - hell, they may even be able to inform the police which areas and times have the highest incidence of speeding to improve their ability to ticket people - nothing a radar gun sitting on the side of the road can't do...

    At any rate, I would keep an eye on the anonymity of the whole thing - I wouldn't want a ticket showing up form my highway driving.
    • hell, they may even be able to inform the police which areas and times have the highest incidence of speeding to improve their ability to ticket people - nothing a radar gun sitting on the side of the road can't do...

      Why bother about ticketing people for speeding, if you know which areas and times have the highest incidence of people driving around with their cellphones switched ON (which is forbidden in many places)...

    • I wouldn't want a ticket showing up form my highway driving.

      The question then is, "Why even have laws at all?". The police are charged with enforcing the law. Period. They aren't supposed to be de facto judge and jury though selective enforcement, no matter how many of them try to usurp that power. Law enforcement's goal, in theory, is 100% enforcement of the law.

      Of course that raises practical problems, because everyone is a criminal. The laws in most places are written in such a way that anyone can be arrested at any time, because everyone is breaking some law. This is leveraged by governments constantly to supress people they don't like. The problem isn't really about privacy, it's about laws that make everyone arrestable. We need to fix the laws so that only real criminals can be arrested, not prevent enforcement.
  • The DC area traffic authorities started playing with this some time ago.

    One reference [wave-guide.org]
  • by anarchima ( 585853 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @09:14AM (#4980897) Homepage
    This is yet another part of the system being built up around civilian populations in the West. Perhaps you haven't noticed, but lately (as in the last 5-10 years) new technologies have emergies which on their own might not seem to affect your privacy much. Things like credit cards, email, telephone banking, THE INTERNET, satellites, and more are all capable of spying on you. Sorry for sounding like such a paranoid person, but if all these devices were coordinated we could all be watched. The Big Brother is out there, and this is just another step in the wrong direction...Does anyone actually believe that this sort of information isn't being used (or can easily be used) against you?
    • Does "Big Brother" really give two farts about whether or not I am speeding, though? I mean, if you're going to be paranoid at least be paranoid about something worthwhile. I don't even think it's so much easier to watch me than it was before. In the days of yore people had a lot less information swirling around, and so you could learn all there was to know about someone without having to collect and save the data. It wasn't too tough, back in the day, for BB to find out all about you through what some would call 'conventional methods' (using spies/trackers/etc). I think that BB has simply been keeping up with the times. We are no more or less secure now than we were before, it's just that our (in)security has changed.

      Furthermore, why is everyone so upset about getting caught speeding? Don't want to get caught? Don't do it. If you don't like the laws, then use the appropriate paths (voting, lobbying, running for office) to get the laws fixed. Don't grouse because now all of a sudden you can be caught breaking the law. If the law seems inappropriate to you then get it fixed. Don't let bad laws sit and gain acceptance with age. There are a lot of silly/bad laws out there that only exist because people ignore them or go around them since "it's not a big deal." It's ridiculous. Don't ignore the law, change it!
      • Finally! Someone with a clue! THANK YOU for saying this.

        Laws are not made to be broken, they're made to make living a little easier. If you have problems with the laws on the books, and believe they're not helping, you need to raise your voice. Make your government aware of your misgivings. It's YOUR government damn it. You may have decided to let it run itself these last few years, but ultimately the founding fathers made sure that the government would be, in some way, answerable to you - be that, arguably as originally intended, on a State by State level, or, as it is now, on a more pluralist democratic level (yes, as long as the legislature is answerable to the populace, it's a democracy. You don't need more than that, all this BS about rule by plebicite is just that: BS)

        Speeding may or may not be something you believe should be outlawed. Clearly, if you believe it should be, you must call for more appropriate and stict enforcement of this law - if everyone is forced, through widespread non-compliance such that compliance is itself dangerous, to disobey that law, then the only way it can be made to work is to create mechanisms that enforce it properly. Similarly, you may be of the opinion that selective or patchy enforcement means that the law is itself wrong, that the ends do not justify having the law in the first place, and that the law should itself be taken off the books. But without you declaring it a problem, and demanding your government deal with this, the government will assume you consent to the laws we have as they're written.

        This quagmire of government inaction over inappropriately implemented laws regardless of the consequences will not disappear by itself. Unless people are prepared to actually act, not just talk about it on Slashdot, nothing will ever get done. Apathy is not an option.

        You can help by getting off your rear and writing to your congressman [house.gov] [house.gov] or senator [senate.gov] [senate.gov]. Tell them either to enforce the law or take it off the books, depending on what you believe. Tell them that you appreciate the work being done to protect your safety, or that you're fed up of taxpayers money being spent on enforcing unenforcable laws, but if money keeps being thrown at half-assed half-implemented solutions that you either agree or disagree with, you will be forced to use less and less secure and intelligently designed alternatives. Let them know that SMP may make or break whether you can efficiently deploy OpenBSD on your workstations and servers. Explain the concerns you have about freedom, openness, and choice, and how half implemented laws harms all three. Let them know that this is an issue that effects YOU directly, that YOU vote, and that your vote will be influenced, indeed dependent, on whether or not they either implement the law fully, or abolish it, depending on your point of view.

        You CAN make a difference. Don't treat voting as a right, treat it as a duty. Keep informed, keep your political representatives informed on how you feel. And, most importantly of all, vote.

        • Yes. Thank you. I really do get tired of hearing about how it sucks that you get busted for breaking the law. Also, I greatly appreciate the OBSD reference you tucked in there. What a pleasant easter-egg in a post. ;)

          I guess it seems like people have forgotten that the system is indeed set up so that they can make a difference. People alternatively bitch about elected officials and don't vote, or bitch about all politicians being "the same" and continue to enforce the two-party system (in the US) at the same time by refusing to do anything more than watch debates on TV. It's really frustrating.

          On the other hand, at least the US doesn't have legally mandated voting. That would doubleplussuck! ;)
    • Just a comment about how the current situation is, they're currently using embedded sensors in the road. How can you be so sure about the fact that these sensors may just as well register the license plate of your car? A small X10-cam sitting by the road and just grabbing images of licensing plates as they go by? Just set up a couple of these, and you have the same effect. The current solution could probably be tampered with just as much as this one - and I would probably say that the new solution is a lot better than the current one. If its there, use it! If you're moving around in public space, there's always a risk of getting registered and surveillanced, even if you take all possible measures. Get a non-registered phone or something .. after all, if you really were paranoid, you wouldnt move in public spaces or carry a cell phone.

  • Privacy (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Kajakske ( 59577 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @09:15AM (#4980901) Homepage Journal
    This is all very interesting, but as stated before, there is a privacy risk involved with this. Not only can you actually track where a user goes, you can also track who he is with.

    Another point is, who knows how many cell phones are in 1 car ? If you have several cars with 4 people in it, all having there cell phone turned on, then it might look like a traffic jam, or at least very condensed traffic, but it might not be the case.
    Or the opposite. If they take an average of 2 phones per car, and it's work time and there are like only people with 1 person in the car, it might look like fluid traffic where there is a jam.
    • If you have several cars with 4 people in it, all having there cell phone turned on, then it might look like a traffic jam, or at least very condensed traffic, but it might not be the case.

      They measure how long it takes for a random cell phone to get from point A to point B. So they don't actually measure the cell phone density, but what's the average speed of "cell phone mass". When traffic increases close to jam levels, speeds go down..

      • You know what would be funny in that case ?

        2 cars collide, but are able to get to the side (Let's say 6 cell phones with speed 0) ...
        Then cops come (2 with speed 0), towing trucks (2 also) ... That's about 10 just standing there ... That will influence the data ... :p
    • Statistics.

      The average number of people in a car is quite predictable, and they're interested only in the relative density of cell phones and their average speed, which helps in traffic planning.

      A bigger problem is that they cannot determine the type of the vehicles from the cell phone signatures, and thus they have to combine this with the old sensors-under-the-road counting technique, which can give a good estimate of the vehicle size as well. A sudden insurge of trucks on the highways is much more important information than the fact that you are travelling with a friend. Of course, since the relative location error available from GSM cell phones is about 100 metres or so, it is unlikely that you could say who is riding in which vehicle.
    • If you have several cars with 4 people in it, all having there cell phone turned on, then it might look like a traffic jam, or at least very condensed traffic, but it might not be the case

      Presumably they're looking as much at the speed of the passers-by than at the density; four cellphones zipping past at 120 km/h certainly looks a lot different than four cellphones sitting still or crawling by along with 10,000 others. Four cellphones sitting still while 10,000 other zip by at 120 km/h also isn't going to look like a jam.

      I imagine they've refined this technique a little bit so that it won't be confused by a few people stopped or going slower than average, etc. I remember a number of companies doing this, so I'm sure there's commercial software out there that's already been tested.

      Any way you cut it, a traffic jam's going to look a lot different from a normal, free roadway. I don't imagine that it's terribly difficult to build a system that can differentiate between the two, although it's possible that there will be some unique situations in which confusion is possible.

    • They are probably going to measure the speed of the cell phones, not their density. You wouldn't care how many cars are on the road, as long as they are moving fast enough.
    • Even better ...

      A bus with 80 cell phones on it going at 70 kmh :-)
      Then make that a school trip with 10 of those buses and that SHOULD influence the system.

      But now I'm just trying to find ways to flaw the system. This normally wouldn't happen :p
    • First, during the times of the day when people care about traffic data, in the US at least, less then 10 percent of the traffic has more then 1 person per vehicle.
      Additionally, there is a signifcant population that carry 2 cell phones (work and personal). I do not believe the density of cell phones to be a problem. During heavy traffic congestion, when cars are packed 10 feet around you, I doubt this technology is accurate enough to determine a difference between 2 cars that close.

      More important is the relative speed.
      By the time traffic is going less then 15 mph, the damage is done, and congestion ocurrs. Traffic engineers need to know when the main flow of traffic starts to reduce speed to be able to make corrections to help anyone.
    • Actually, your privacy is no more "violated" after this than before, as the positional data created by the GSM base station system exists anyway, regardless of any further use, especially if in this case the users (of the data) do not receive any other data except amount. For instance, the phone company can do it already, and the police almost certainly will be able to access it, at least with a court order. And you can't track who somebody is with, because the base stations are about 200m (or more) apart from each other, and cant give any more positional data than that a cell phone is using it. So it's like saying that I'm with somebody, only they can be on the other side of town/whatever.
      • I believe, technically, a cell phone receiver can get more data than just wheter it is connected or not.

        The phones transmit a wave at a certain power, which decreases over distance ...
        And combining 3 or more receivers, one can calculate where a phone is, around 1m exact.
        Ofcourse this would mean some adjustments to the receivers (as far as I know, the don't yet check signal power) + some geographical location of the receivers on a map ...

        Oh well ...
  • Similar story (Score:4, Informative)

    by Koyaanisqatsi ( 581196 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @09:18AM (#4980911)
    This is not a dupe (hey, not yet ;) but a similar story was reported a while back. Here is the magic link [slashdot.org].

    The linked BBC article on the story is in English too.
  • What happens when everyone starts getting to work? Most buildings are within a few dozen feet of a road... will they be able to tell a building full of cellphones from a road full of cellphones?
  • Will they be able to distinguish from cell phones in cars, multiple cell phones in cars, and cell phones not in cars? I wouldn't want the news to report that often the largest traffic jams occur in hotels and office buildings. However, my guess is that they'll see how fast the cell phone was ever moving, to see if it is inside a car or not.
    • A given location has an average mobile phone density. If it triples (or tenfolds) over a short period of time can you say there's a traffic jam? Just guessing...
  • I wonder what the system says when every driver throws out the mobile on a specified route at mainly the same time....

    Error: Route A34 slashdotted, traffic stopped completely
  • Here's my problem with this:
    They say they'll use the info anonymously and not share it right?
    Nothing actually holds them to their word on this.
    They can say they'll use the info anonmyously, and then change their mind later. Nothing's stopping them, or at least nothing stops gov't officials in the US from doing things like this. "No new taxes" anyone?

    I would accept a system like this, if there was actually an assurance that they would hold to their word, say fines and jail time for anyone who shares the confidential info and maybe a contract where they have to trash the whole system if X amount of data gets comprimised.
    And of course they would have to be audited, by auditors whose only business is auditing.
    • We telecom related privacy violations very seriously [europemedia.net] in Finland.
    • In Finland we have very tight laws regulating sharing of personal information between organizations. So this has already been taken care of.
    • by arivanov ( 12034 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @10:36AM (#4981147) Homepage
      Nothing actually holds them to their word on this.

      Do you think that Finland is a village in Alabama or something? Finland is a civilised country. And as such it has data protection regulations and telecoms laws you have hardly dreamed of. In order to get to that data police need

      • 1. A court warrant on a specific person

      • 2. Having obtained the court warrant they can start recording only the specific subset they have been granted access to.
        3. They have no access to any prior data except the last 60 days of billing (and nothing but billing).
        4. Any non-billing data that can personally identify an individual may not be retained by the telecom operator and is immediately destroyed after operational use.
      Germany and other EU countries have similar laws. There are exemptions of course. Like the UK.

      But overall, the police cannot get to any data of practical interest for the prosecution of minor misdemanors.

  • Minority Report (Score:3, Interesting)

    by epicstruggle ( 311178 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @09:56AM (#4981021)
    This use of our cell phones might lead to some serious privacy issues. I dont know if you watched Minority Report. But one interesting aspect of the future in that movie was how pervasive the SYSTEM monitored you (using an iris scan to identify you). Using your cell phone to monitor traffic might seem like a small thing, but it might lead to some serious deteoration of your privacy. Say we have some serious criminal act, and we want to know who might have been near the area, these people could be suspects or witnesses. We could just check who had their cell phones on in the area. This might not seem bad, unless your labeled a "person of interest". I doubt youd like to be under that much scrutiny (sp?)

    anyways, just a thought
    • Re:Minority Report (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Killeri ( 238792 )
      Actually, this happened already in Finland. The police can request a court order to get location data for a phone identified with a suspect. In one case a court granted an order to release location data for all phones in a single cell during a certain time period, even though this is not allowed by law. This came up in a yearly report of such court orders.

  • Honest officer.. I wasnt talking and driving at the same time.

    I was detecting traffic jams.. Just doing my bit!

  • Any sensible driver turns off his cell phone whilst driving.
  • Old news actually (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 30, 2002 @10:00AM (#4981033)
    Check out the date: 18.6.2002.

    The press release talks about monitoring traffic jams on highways. Thus several phones in single car won't make a difference, since dozens of cars will pass checkpoints every minute.

    Privacy isn't an issue here. Finland has very strict privacy laws and this system is designed with privacy in mind: System assing different (changing) codes to the each cell phone and it only tracks when code X pass through the checkpoints.

    It is also illegal for operators to give information about calls to the police, unless owner is suspected of very severe crime.
  • If we only lived harmoneously with nature, things like traffic jams would be unheard of.

    I wonder how much of my life I have wasted sitting in the car, surrounded by idiots.
    • Re:Traffic Jams (Score:2, Insightful)

      by ComaVN ( 325750 )
      I wonder how much of my life I have wasted sitting in the car, surrounded by idiots.

      Reminds me of some graffiti I saw on a wall next to a highway, which (roughly translated) said: "You're not IN a traffic jam, you ARE the traffic jam."
  • I seriously doubt that the information is accurate enough to convict a driver of speeding. The poster wrote that the intended use is monitoring traffic jams - this means using statistical methods that average out errors. Saying that the traffic is flowing at X km (miles) per hour is very different from saying that cellphone C is moving at speed Y.

    As to privacy, the location of each cellphone is already available to law enforcement (even if powered off), so there's no real difference. If you really want to drive to your lover for an afternoon, be sure to remove the battery from your cellular...

  • nothing new (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    as others have said, it's not the first time this has come up. These ideas were actively discussed by those in the industry since 98/99. When WAP first became hot, numerous companies tried to push for this. The main reason it hasn't happened isn't technological. It's all political. For those privacy freaks out there, the government is already using this information and they already have access. Anyone that thinks having these kinds of services available is going to significantly increase government abuse is too blind to see it's already doing a great job of abusing its power.

    If some one is a speed freak, then unplug the damn battery. to get an accurate measurement of traffic, you would have to actively monitor multiple signals and average it out. Plus, giving some one a ticket based on their cell phone wouldn't stand up in court. The prescence of the phone does not constitute the owner is speeding.

  • Do excuse any typos / grammatical errors, I'm at work and supposed to do something meaningful instead, so no time to proof read now. :P

    Tiehallinto (= FRA) has succesfully experimented the collection of traffic jam data via mobile phones in co-operation with Radiolinja. In the experiment, average travel durations are collected regularly to Tiehallinto's traffic central. Information about the duration of the traffic is relayed to the motorists via radio and other media. Information is collected from the mobile phones on the road, but the phone owner isn't identified, so there isn't any privacy issue.

    In the future, motorists can get even more trustworthy and broader traffic jam information and predictions. You can plan your trips outside the worst traffic jams or to an alternative route. And you can at least predict when you'll be at your summer cottage to heat up the sauna or back at work.

    The experiment started in Easter and ended in Midsummer, and it measured cars' travel times in Kehä 1 (a ring road around Helsinki) and on highway 4 between Lahti and Heinola. Already the experiment has proved its strength when compared to camera systems and road sensors. The traffic jam data is reliable information to relay for drivers. VTT evaluates the results of the experiment and checks for possible needs to improve the system for larger main roads.

    In the data Radiolinja produces, there's no mention of who owns the located phones, because mobile phones are monitored with changing codes in a completely anonymous way at only certain points. The system follows when a code passes point A and when it will pass point B", product development manager Veli-Matti Kiviranta from Radiolinja's Telematiikka-liiketoimintayksikkö says. After calculating the travel time, the code is erased as useless. The system has also been evaluated by the road- and communications department's Personal Navigation Software's security experts.

    In the system, all currently used GSM-phones can be measured, and phones or networks won't need any changes. It's enough that phones have their power on. Weather conditions don't affect the reliability of the measurement.

    "Now the travel time measurement system offers a very promising alternative to follow traffic in [Finnish] roads on a wider scale," says traffic service lead Jorma Helin from Tiehallinto. The system is scalable without expemsive investments in the roads and is also more reliable than current systems. The product might have demand in countries which are regularly affected by traffic jams.
  • I was encouraged in high school to use calculators since my H.S. was trying to go "high tech". In fact, we were REQUIRED to use them on tests .... if you didn't, you were going to fail due to a lack of time to complete the exam.

    Then I got to college ...

    Now keep in mind, I was a pretty good math student (scored perfect on the SATs in Math ... English was another issue ... and why I didn't get into a good school), so this is a good example in my opinion.

    I took my first college Calc II exam, and of course, used my calculator for it. In all fairness, it was a difficult exam, but a fair exam. I thought I would be "joe slick" and finish quickly by using the latest and greatest graphing calc. available ... and I finished WAY before the other students in the course. HOWEVER, when I got my exam back, I got a 54%!!! Every answer was correct, but in big, red letters at the top of the paper, the prof wrote "This is what you get for looking at your calculator so much!" ... then he wrote "I need to see a few more steps and where you got some of these answers".

    Needless to say, that was the last time I used that calculator for anything but to check answers (or to get answers and reverse engineer them) :)

    My prof was right though ... kids today need to learn to think for themselves BEFORE they begin to use technology as a crutch ....

    .... but at the same time, we live in a technology laced society ... so which is more evil ... to force kids to learn, but not teach them technology, or to teach then technology, but make them helpless without it ....

    It is an evil world we live in ....

    It looks like technology is like women ... can't live with it, can't live without it ...

    Just my 2 cents ...

  • Did anyone else reading the title of the story post immediately think of the finliaths in Dark Age of Camelot, and was confused?
  • US Wireless has been experimenting with this for a while now, helped out by a few Universities:

    http://www.uswcorp.com/USWCMainPages/PressRel/pr 47 .htm
  • but is disagree with the privacy issue, lets say that they can clock your phone and pass teh info along to the cops, but if you have a prepaid account, how do they know it's yours?
  • So, it is not, at least yet, possible to fine people carrying mobile phones in their cars too fast on public roads (exceeding the speed limit of the road)

    Never will be - just switch your phone off if you intend to go above the posted speed limit. It's dangerous to use your mobile while driving anyway. (Much more dangerous than it is to go 20mph above the speed limit on a clear motorway at 1am).
  • They drive there? I thought they just ran Lapps.

    Sorry for the joke, but I swear I am finnished...
    Well I was lying but now I am definitely am...


    • Well, after the introduction of the common European currency, the penni (1/100th of the Finnish markka) has been more widely known as 0.16818792646151103396891550743138 Euro-cents.
  • will be used to calculate how many assholes are in a movie theatre at any given time.
  • There is a conceptually similar system in use today in Atlanta. The system consists of a number of RF readers stationed around the city. These readers are compatible with the Georgia 400 Tollway's "Cruise Card" transponders, used for electronic toll collection. The system reads the transponders in vehicles and uses the data to determine overall traffic speed. Obviously, not everyone in the city has these transponders, but enough vehicles carry them to generate plenty of useful data.

    I believe Houston has a similar system in place, since the Sam Houston Tollway uses the same equipment.

    People will predictably shout about privacy issues, but it is illegal for this information to be used to enforce speed limits, and the information is not permanently recorded anywhere.

    You can read a bit more about this setup at the transponder manufacturer's site [theautochannel.com] among other places.
  • Finally they have figured out a way to prevent the driver (if he is alone) from using a cellphone while driving.

    As Click and Clack say, "Drive now, talk later."

    My mom doesn't understand this. She almost backed into a non-moving car last week.

    Perhaps having one's speed measured while their cell phone is on will compell them to shut that damn thing off while they are driving.

    If you're afraid of Big Brother or whatever, they
    monitor phone calls anyway, not sure about the Netherlands though.
  • Finns are quite precise about their privacy issues. Finnish media reacts very aggressievly to any insult of privacy, was it about snail-mail, telecommonucation or e-mail. A firm can ruin its reputation very badly, if someone finds out any interfering of privacy.

    For example there is one major legal case underway, where Finland's biggest telecommunication company's [sonera.fi] head was arrested [helsinki-hs.net], including the former president [helsinki-hs.net] of the company. The case is about tracing mobile phones to reveal people who are leaking sensitive information about the company to media.

    So in the first place the article attached to this story trys to settle the concerned citizen by proving that the system is truly anonymous (temporary, non-personal and untraceable keys for following all those faceless mobile phones) and the police authorities have no access to it. I see no reason to doubt their honesty because the Road Administraion (which will use the system) is governmental bureau and lying might lead to yet-another privacy scandal in Finland.

  • "The best way to get a bad law repealed is to enforce it strictly." --Abraham Lincoln

Mathemeticians stand on each other's shoulders while computer scientists stand on each other's toes. -- Richard Hamming