Katie LaPotin, Red Alert Politics, September 10, 2013
Potentially coming soon to the Garden State — electronic license plates that display more than just one’s license plate tags.
The California State Legislature recently passed a bill that would allow for an electronic license plate program.
The bill, which is currently awaiting Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature, would set up a pilot program that would involve 160,000 cars in the state testing the plates in the state and would be completed no later than the beginning of 2017.
The plates that would be used in the pilot program, according to The Sacramento Bee, would be similar to a digital 12-by-6-inch computer screen. While the plate would generally just show the car’s license place numbers, it could be changed to display Amber Alerts or facilitate toll payments as well. The state also hopes that the new technology will make the vehicle registration and renewal process more efficient, potentially saving the Department of Motor Vehicles some of the $20 million it spends each year in postage for renewals.
The state Senate had considered a similar bill back in 2010 but it died in committee.
Many privacy advocates are up in arms about the potential program, however, as it could leave motorists in California vulnerable to government surveillance. They also believe it is in violation of a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that requires authorities to obtain search warrants before using vehicle tracking devices.
“We’re surprised and disappointed that this bill seems to be proceeding without any serious exploration of the privacy risks,” Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told the Bee back in July. “Just because it’s a pilot doesn’t excuse the legislature of responsibility.”
Added colleague Nate Cardozo: “It means everyone driving in California will have their location accessible to the government at any time.
Privacy experts are also concerned about the potential for advertising with the license plates. Jim Lites, a lobbyist hired by Smart Plate Mobile, the company producing the plates, told the Bee that the program will focus solely on vehicle registration efficiencies and not advertising revenue, however.
“Let’s focus on that and let the Legislature decide what they would like this technology to do, assuming this pilot is successful,” he said.
South Carolina is also considering installing electronic license plates on cars, and heard proposals from a company called Compliance Innovations last month about a similar system.