As part of a study to gauge traffic behavior, a consulting firm working with Napa County will be collecting license plate images and hundreds of thousands of anonymous records of cell phone location data from residents, commuters and visitors.

The county is collaborating with the Napa County Transportation and Planning Agency in producing the $198,000 study, which aims to answer long-standing questions about where the traffic clogging county highways is coming from, and thus help land-use planners and elected officials figure out what to do about it.

They’ll need massive amounts of data, which needs to be refined and analyzed for patterns. Transportation consulting firm Fehr & Peers has been hired to collect it, county Planning Director Hillary Gitelman told the Napa County Planning Commission on Wednesday. The goal is to have the study finished by April or May of next year.

“We need more data about who’s driving in their cars, where and when,” Gitelman said. “This is a good prerequisite to having thoughtful planning.”

Getting that data will need methods that would be considered unheard of a decade ago, but are quickly becoming normal in the smartphone and GPS era.

Kevin Johnson, a senior transportation planner at Fehr & Peers, told the commissioners that throughout Napa County, his firm will be setting up infrared cameras and computer systems that can record drivers’ license plates.

The cameras will be located at 12 locations inside the county and in gateways outside its boundaries to capture images of the license plates. The plates can be read through the computer software.

The plates will be used to look up the drivers’ home addresses through the Department of Motor Vehicles database, and Fehr & Peers will send surveys asking questions about the drivers’ trips — where they were going, how often they make those trips, and which roads they travel on, among other queries, Johnson said.

Fehr & Peers will also contract with a company called Air Sage, which collects anonymous GPS data from cellphones and provides it to the firm. Air Sage computers watch as the cell phones move around on a map, and classifies the location based on the length of time spent there.

If a cellphone remains at a location overnight, for example, Air Sage labels that “home,” Johnson said. Time spent at one location between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. is assumed to be a resident’s work. The cellphone data also shows how the residents traveled between those points.

“Essentially they watch millions and millions of points move around the network,” Johnson said. “Basically all cell phones that are active ... will make a point.”

Neither Air Sage nor Fehr & Peers can tell any personal information about who owns the cell phone — aside from locations — and what data is on the cell phone or how it’s used, Johnson said.

Fehr & Peers did a similar survey of cellphones’ travel patterns in Monterey, and collected 1.4 million cellphone records, Johnson said. How much will be collected in Napa County is anyone’s guess.

“I have no idea how many we’re going to get,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be a lot, though.”

Examining the results of initial data collection, Johnson said a lot of trips to Napa County were originating in San Francisco, Alameda County, Contra Costa County, Solano County and from Sacramento.

The firm will also have traffic counters set up in the driveways of 30 wineries throughout Napa County, gauging the traffic volumes in and out of the wineries and when it’s heaviest. People will also go to those wineries and ask visitors if they would like to participate in a survey about how they got there, where they’re going next, if they’re staying in Napa Valley, or if they’ve been to multiple wineries.

An online survey will be issued to major schools and employers in Napa County, asking questions about students’ and employees’ commuting patterns.

All four of these methods should provide enough data for the study, Johnson concluded. The goal is to have all of the data assembled by February.

The vehicle license plate recording will take place Oct. 4, while the cell phone data will be collected in three one-week periods, which won’t run consecutively.

Commissioners Matt Pope and Heather Phillips noted how seasonal shifts in traffic volumes in Napa Valley can affect the data collected. With schools back in session and harvest and crush under way, traffic is now quite different than it was in mid-summer, Pope said.

“Just empirically there’s a huge difference between the middle of the summer and the start of the fall,” Pope said.

Gitelman said the efforts put into the study will be worth it, providing the most accurate information about how traffic originates, and how it moves through Napa County roadways.

“We’re going to be able to use these tools to analyze the projects the commission sees,” Gitelman said.

Napa County is contributing $50,000, the Napa County Transportation and Planning Agency the rest.


(44) comments


Go home NSA, you're drunk.


Simple fix: don't drive.

Seriously, you do know that your car is photographed/imaged/videoed many, many times every day, right? If you have a Fastrac it knows where you are, all the time - how do you think they know drive times between reference points. Your cell phone data is not yours, you signed that away when you activated your plan. Ever read that fine print, all 90 pages of it or so?

We live in an electronic age, and if you have a cell, it knows where you are. If you use GPS, it's knows where you are. If you drive, you get your picture taken. If you walk into a store, you get your picture taken. If you walk downtown you get your picture taken. There are cameras EVERYWHERE. Get over it.


This program is an outrageous invasion of privacy. Residents need to demand that it be stopped - immediately. Tracking the travels of people without a criminal suspicion and a court ordered warrant is unacceptable.

James C. Walker, Life Member-National Motorists Association


The exact reason they are photographing your license plate is to find out where you live. Did they mention track the Jets landing at the airport to see where they flew in from????


I have 3 words. INVASION OF PRIVACY!!


about 1 million californians have license plates that can not be traced to a home address for weeks. this includes most police,firemen, cps workers and their whole family. they never have to pay parking or speeding tickets. etc. it won’t help to turn off cell phones because , by law , they must have a backdoor the gov’t can use to turn on the phone remotely without alerting the user. links are available but nobody has taken any interest in the topic so far when i’ve mentioned it in the past.


Since when do they need license plate numbers, cell phone data or any private information to study traffic patterns? Hopefully the Register will publish the names of everyone in city and county government who are behind this nonsense. The fourth amendment guards against this lawlessness by government and we the people will not stand for it. Where do I sign?


Who knows a good lawyer? We the people need to file a lawsuit. This is dangerous, disturbing and disgusting. Our politicians want us on mass transit while they drive around in taxpayer paid cars And, we pay for their gas. I hate mass transit. Why are all those huge buses driving around Napa empty???? Stop wasting our money.


“We’re going to be able to use these tools to analyze the projects the commission sees,” Gitelman said. Sadly, our local governing bodies are not able to absorb the current flow of information and data they receive now when making critcally important land use decisions. Anyone driving daily on our major thoroughfares (Silverado Trail and Highway 29 for example) can readily tell you that we already have reached our maximum capacity, and yet we continue to approve project after project without considering this obvious experiental data. I highly doubt that the information received through this highly invasive and costly study will provide anything more than a negligible impact on the decision-making process. With all due respect, Ms. Gitelman should provide specific and concrete examples of how the information will be used. Otherwise, the government should stay out of this business and leave it to the private sector to conduct its own traffic/marketing studies at its own cost.


This is a example of government trying to "justify" spying on its own citizens.

What real business is it of Napa needing this kind of DETAILED information.

IT stinks of Big Brother.

They need to use a less intrusive way that doesn't involve tracking everyone like tagged cattle!


We need to start tracking our local politicians and other who think they have the right to track us. Hillary, Matt and Heather. What do you drive, when do you drive it?

Gary Orton

AirSource, mentioned in the article, “processes 15 billion locations a day and can account for movement of about a third of the U.S. population in some places to within less than 100 meters.” (How Wireless Carriers Are Monetizing Your Movements, The data it purchases from wireless operators been “scrubbed” of identifying personal data, other than times and locations, supposedly making it “anonymous.” Not so, say experts.

“To extract the COMPLETE LOCATION INFORMATION for a single person from an ‘anonymized’ data set of more than a million people, all you would need to do is place him or her within a couple of hundred yards of a cellphone transmitter, sometime over the course of an hour, four times in one year.”

Once you know where a person sleeps and works, it’s not too hard to further de-anonymize (Google it) the data using other data sources to reveal the identity and unintended details about individuals or specific groups.


Are they interested in people LEAVING Napa? I can tell you where we are all going in the mornings; to jobs. Especially to jobs that pay a decent wage, something that Napa has very little of...


You can give me the $200k and I'll tell you exactly where and why traffic stinks in Napa. Why don't they just ask the citizens? It will come clear pretty quick where the issues are.....let's see... not being able to get in to Bel-Aire Plaza without blocking Trancas, not one light in this city synchronized to anything, allowing growth before the roads are the right size instead of after, adding traffic signals for no particular reason after you lie about them being temporary (8th street and Soscol), one way streets to two way to nowhere.....or we could just actually fire anyone that has anything to do with traffic in this city and hire someone that will for god's sake listen.


NVR - you could greatly serve the citizens of Napa and your subscribers if you did another article on this one...see the comments on your FB page...makes these seem tolerant, that clearly outlines exactly who (contact info would be a great addition) in our local government we should address to stop this flagrant invasion of our privacy and complete waste of our financial resources. NCTPA is infamous for spending our money foolishly, but this is beyond foolish. Will you help?


I consider myself a futurologist and am generally for integration of cutting edge technologies. If this was limited to plate tracking, I'd probably be for it. However, combing it with cell phone tracking as well as *DMV integration* kills it for me. This should absolutely not be allowed and I agree with "Old Time Napkin" in that it appears those responsible for this are completely oblivious to the current political climate. Privacy issues are hot right now and rolling this out without so much as public comment is going to prove to be a huge mistake.

Rob C

And only a matter or time until progressives or reactionaries lobby to use the data for the "common good" to penalize (tax, ostracize) "excessive commutes", "excessive acceleration" , "luxury destinations" etc.

Sure they will tell you its private and locked down - that is until an opposition party/appointee in control now (or will be one day) who doesn't like the activity "leaks" the database to aligned activist/community/nanny organizations.

Are the personal license plates and cell phones of law enforcement officers and their families exempt from this study because of "personal security concerns"?

If so, why is it a security concern if this "study" is completely anonymous?

I will only trust this study if EVERYONE in the community is a non-voluntary participant.


NO!!!! Are we living in Iran? Is Napa the new Tehran? The cops love this stuff.


I did a little research that perhaps the reporter may want to follow up on:
California Vehicle Code 1808 and the Public Records Act (Government Code Section 6253 et seq.) provide that information collected by the Department is generally considered public information and is subject to inspection by the public. Exceptions to this public disclosure obligation include: Personal Information and Confidential Information.

Personal information is defined as information that identifies or describes an individual, including, but not limited to, his or her name, social security number, physical description, home address, home telephone number, education, financial matters, and medical or employment history. An "individual" is defined as a "natural person."

Release of personal information must be in accordance with the Information Practices Act of 1977 (Civil Code Section 1798 et seq.) and the federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act of 1994 (DPPA) (Title 18 United States Code).


Unfortunately, it seems there are plenty of "loopholes" in 18 U.S.C. Sec. 2721 that may apply here. Refer to subsection (b) Permissible Uses - "Personal information referred to in subsection (a) shall be disclosed for use in connection with matters of motor vehicle or driver safety..." " For use by any government agency... in carrying out its functions, or any private person or entity acting on behalf of a Federal, State, or local agency in carrying out its functions." That said, this doesn't mean that the use noted in this article isn't an unjustified violation of personal privacy. Add to that the already noted apparent lack of sensitivity by county officials, especially in light of recent public concern over privacy matters... very, very concerning.


Used to be only law enforcement could access DMV records so I don't know what law changed that. All they need is zip codes for this purpose so perhaps some local state legislature would purpose a bill to restrict non law enforcement inquiries to zip codes. Oh wait, I forgot....we don't have any state or county legislators who are not fellow Democrats like Mr. Pope and Ms. Phillips and they love this stuff, (by the way Pope will be running for higher office soon). As for cell phones, all the more reason to TURN THEM OFF WHEN DRIVING if you are worried about privacy. But, you know the voters keep re-electing every incumbent on the Board which just tells them they are on the right track. Welcome to West World where nothing can....go wrong....go wrong...go wrong...


Don't make this a democrat vs. republican issue. I'm a dem and I think this is ridiculous as well. You need to realize that there's people on both sides of the aisle that are either oblivious (like in this case) or knowingly working against the interests of the American people.


So many valid arguments against this. In protest, I suggest staying off public roads on Oct. 4. Further, anyone who receives a survey should not respond...


Absolutely we want to RETURN these surveys.

Just make sure none of your responses are TRUTHFUL....

Bike To Work

If you do not want your privacy violated don't carry a cell phone. It's not just the government but the phone servers have the info to do with as they please, and we bought into it freely. GPS was develpoed by the military to spy on people.
My concern is that we are going to fink out what we alredy know: Traffic is all of us. Where do we come from: our homes. Where do we go: to work, to the store, to sightsee, visit friends.
I have to agree $198,000 to find out there are drivers on the road is just wierd.


It is the 'New Entitlement Mentality.' Our Politicians believe they are entitled to do as they please, no matter the abuse. Seems like a good reason to Recall all of the Supervisors. It also appears we have some planning commission members that think tossing the public trust out the window is okay !

Change, maybe that is something we should think about here in Napa. New Leadership is definitely in order !


What has happened to the 4th?


Welcome to Napa, "Come for the Wine, Stay for The Police State."


I would like to know if there are any attorney's on this yet? This is outrageous! I choose to "opt out" of all of it and will not be filling out any of their "surveys". They can throw their "traffic counting hoses" over the roads, that's all the information they need.
They need not know where I buy my milk and on which day of the week I buy it, nor which part of town I dine at on Saturday night.
The criminals that sneak past their employment back ground checks, will now be able to gather information on where I work and what time I leave for work every morning. Next, they will want to know, how many people you had traveling in your car with you and did you have your dog with you that day. As a homeowner in Napa County, I am outraged and I want this "idea' squashed ASAP.

Old Time Napkin

How does a private contractor get access to DMV records? Even TSA does not have access to DMV records. I asked this question one time at an airport and they said they have no access to DMV or Social Security. Looks to me like the private contractor may have access by way of a lobbyist in Sacramento and making a big payment to DMV. Access to our DMV records by a private company is totally unacceptable. It's none of the county's business how many times I go to town or when I leave or enter the county.


What disturbs me is the county appears to be oblivious to public perception and reactions about privacy concerns in this NSA data mining day and age. County personnel seem to be proceeding with this program just like it was a mundane everyday activity on par with paving a road. Were the elected supervisors appraised of this? They're the ones who will have to deal with the political fallout. I agree with those who feel that without, at the very least some type of public comment in advance, data mining like this is going too far.


Wow what a waste of money don't they have important stuff to fix like streets or they could put that money in the schools


Perhaps a class action lawsuit may be needed to stop this collection of personal data by a for profit, outside contractor. Sounds like Big Brother is getting pretty bold these days!

Michael Haley

It does seem like a remarkable invasion of privacy, but it also tells me that this kind of thing is going on all over and has probably been done here by someone already.

Having said that we need this information in order to do planning and I am glad they are collecting this data.


So Michael, are you saying you support this massive invasion of privacy and collusion with the State to collect information on Private citizens comrade ?


All of you with smart phones already have this done daily. This is not new, and no, they're not tracking you to your home.

It can be used to watch traffic patterns which is exactly what your iPhone does with Google Maps. How else do they know where there are wrecks and slow traffic? By pinging your phone.


This study is simply BS! $198K! Pope and Phillips have just lost my vote on any future election, just for their comments. I would like to see our residential roads and sidewalks fixed before a single cent is spent on this study, which by the way is going to a firm from Walnut Creek! What a Way to spend local dollars!

"Just empirically there's a huge difference between the middle of summer and start of fall"

Thank you captain obvious!


Trace it to our home address ? Please someone stop this invasion of privacy. Things are going to far. Fix sidewalks and streets with that money. Where is your intelligence ?

Joe Riordan
Joe Riordan

What exactly entitles a private, for profit, outside contractor, affiliated in no way with me or DMV to collect my personal info from the state run agency? What safeguards are in place keeping my info safe from others? Can you contact dmv to "opt out" of such an invasion of my privacy? The cell phone dots have no personal info attached but DMV has it all. SSN, dob, address, etc... This is rediculous.

Hear Ye
Hear Ye

This is going to go over like a turd in a punchbowl

David Grega
David Grega

there has to be a way to stop this!

whoa cowboy
whoa cowboy

Wow, seems like a huge invasion of privacy! Come on Napa, wake up. This shouldn't be allowed.


How about using some of that money to investigate and prosecute corrupt planners? $198,000 to count cars. What a joke!

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