More Amateur Surveillance and Data Mining

The latest amateur surveillance and data mining story stars a suburban mom upset about the house being toilet-papered by area teens. She didn’t want to involve the police, so she took the following steps:

  • She canvassed local stores to see which one had a run on toilet paper, and discovered that at one store, someone bought 144 rolls of toilet paper, cheese, dog food, flour and plastic forks, the same items found on her lawn and house.
  • She then got the manager of the store to show her surveillance videos, allowing her to see the personalized letterman’s jacket of one of the purchasers, as well as the license plate of the vehicle they got into.
  • Finally, she used a high school yearbook (matched to the school based on the letterman’s jacket) and online databases to get the names, phone numbers and addresses of all the teens spotted in the store tapes.

A comment on Dave Farber’s Interesting-People mailing list pretty much sums this up: “we’re pretty far down the road to sheepdom when average citizens start thinking ‘well, everything’s monitored all the time anyway – let’s see if I can make use of that.’ “

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