Automatic license plate reader cameras are controversial enough when law enforcement deploys them, given that they can create a panopticon of transit throughout a city. Now one hacker has found a way to put a sample of that power—for safety, he says, and for surveillance—into the hands of anyone with a Tesla and a few hundred dollars to spare.
At the Defcon hacker conference today, security researcher Truman Kain debuted what he calls the Surveillance Detection Scout. The DIY computer fits into the middle console of a Tesla Model S or Model 3, plugs into its dashboard USB port, and turns the car’s built-in cameras—the same dash and rearview cameras providing a 360-degree view used for Tesla’s Autopilot and Sentry features—into a system that spots, tracks, and stores license plates and faces over time. The tool uses open source image recognition software to automatically put an alert on the Tesla’s display and the user’s phone if it repeatedly sees the same license plate. When the car is parked, it can track nearby faces to see which ones repeatedly appear. Kain says the intent is to offer a warning that someone might be preparing to steal the car, tamper with it, or break into the driver’s nearby home.