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Ask Slashdot: Identifying a Stolen Car Using Police Camera Databases?

Dear Slashdot: First, some background. I have been “between schools” for some time, but have recently entered a training program that could at least potentially turn into a lucrative career. The work involves investigating, torture testing, and sometimes bypassing various automotive sub-systems, primarily car ignition, security and other embedded systems, for clients who are often surprised just how fragile these systems can be. The pay is minimal while I’m something more like an intern than a full-time employee, but that’s OK — I figure these skills will stand me in good stead. Now, my problem, and a question: One of the vehicles which I would very much like to play with is unavailable to me and my coworkers for the simple reason that it was stolen before we’d even taken possession of it. Normally, my employer might just write off the loss, but for various reasons would really like to locate this car in particular — perhaps mostly a point of pride, but partly because future contracts from the same client might hinge on locating it rather than looking incompetent. I know that Ars Technica recently showed that it was possible to obtain a great deal of information about scanned registration-plate data using FOIA and other legal means; what I want to know is whether anyone can recommend particular tools or methods for locating stolen cars with such data that doesn’t rely on going through the police or insurance companies, saving embarrassment and hassle. I know enough that I could probably file a FOIA *request* (most likely, my supervisor already has, actually) but not sure what we will be able to do with the raw data returned, or if there are sources for data other than “$Plate + GeoCoords.” Plates obviously can be changed, too; are there publicly available sources for whole-car images that could be efficiently scanned? Best, of course, would be images with at least some rough sorting applied, so things could be sorted both by geography (we’d focus on our own area, Southern Caifornia, so start with, because we have reason to believe it was stolen in this area) and at least by vehicle type or color. And of course, this is probably asking too much, since I imagine it will be a near-impossible task to get this kind of data; we’d also welcome the magic of crowd-sourcing, so if you spot a tan Chevy Maibu with New Mexico plates (K88-283), there’s probably some nice incentives in it for you.


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