Privacy Concerns Surround New Electronic License Plate
There’s a certain amount of distrust for the government that’s healthy. And they sure do make it easy… especially when it comes to new ideas and proposed laws that essentially promise to violate our privacy.
The worst part is that we have to be worried about more than just our federal government…
State and local governments are no exception when it comes to violating our privacy rights, too.
You see, Americans are already concerned about their privacy being violated when it comes to their cellphones and emails, among other things.
The last thing they want to worry about is someone hacking their personal information through their license plate…
California’s Senate Bill 806 has made its way to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk and legislators are simply waiting on him to sign off. The bill would kick-start a pilot program for electronic license plate system. The 12-by-6-inch digital screen would be found on as many as 160,000 cars during the three year pilot.
The digital plates are designed to show the state name along with the license plate number, similar to the traditional plates. However, the technology would allow the plates to display Amber Alerts or notifications that indicate that the tag is expired or even that the car is uninsured or stolen. The screen could also facilitate toll payments. All potentially beneficial things, sure, but is it really worth it?
Privacy Getting the Ultimate Boot
While California may have the best of intentions when it comes to electronic license plates, there are reasons for privacy concerns. According to Lee Tien, an attorney at Electronic Frontier Foundation, the bill has “gotten some amendments that address some of the location privacy issues – within the pilot, the DMV would not be receiving any location information. But the company that operates the plates would [have access, and] they are going to be controlling what’s on the plates.” However, Tien doesn’t believe the legislature is taking privacy concerns seriously: “We’re surprised and disappointed that this bill seems to be proceeding without any serious exploration of the privacy risks. Just because it’s a pilot doesn’t excuse the Legislature of responsibility.”
If it Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It?
If you’re like me, you’re probably thinking, “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.” However, we all know that California is broke, and they’re going to do almost anything they can to cut the budget and increase revenue, and the state thinks the electronic plates will help them do just that. The state hopes that the plates, patented by San Francisco-based Smart Plate Mobile, will make the vehicle registration process more efficient and save the DMV nearly $20 million on the cost of yearly tag renewals.
A similar bill was proposed in California in 2010, but that bill allowed advertisements to scroll on the screens if a car was stopped for more than three seconds. The state saw the plates as a way to increase revenue because the DMW would’ve profited from selling ad space. While the current bill doesn’t include provisions for advertisements, they haven’t ruled ads out altogether. Jim Lites, a lobbyist for Smart Plate Mobile, said the bill’s focus isn’t advertisement revenue, but is instead focused on creating more efficiency. But the truth is, Lites doesn’t really rule anything out: “Let’s focus on that and let the Legislature decide what they would like this technology to do, assuming this pilot is successful.”
Residents of California aren’t the only people who should be concerned. While California may be the first to test-drive the plates, New Jersey and South Carolina are considering electronic license plates as well.
If the technology is already on our cars, what stops the government from using it (as history is proving… virtually nothing can stop the government.) And if more scrutiny isn’t placed upon this device regarding the privacy concerns, we may be setting ourselves up for the ultimate tracking and monitoring system. We’ve got bigger problems now than those Orwellian traffic cameras; these things would be able to monitor us the entire time we’re on the go.
In pursuit of the truth,