Rick Jensen: Ever worry about your license plate info?
Have you ever read a story from a year ago and thought, “Whoa! Why didn’t I hear of this before?”
About this time last year, 27 year-old Jose Concepcion West got busted for a James Bond movie-style invention on his car: a remote controlled cover for his license plate. Jose just pushed a button and a black screen deployed over his license plate, allowing him to blaze through automated EZ Pass tolls without getting caught. He was finally nabbed by police when an officer happened to be driving behind West and watched as he deployed the screen.
Here’s a bit of statutory trivia to keep in mind: stealing toll money this way led to a misdemeanor charge. Covering the license plate was a felony.
This matters because police in Pennsylvania are using automated license plate readers to capture thousands of license plate numbers, the cars they’re attached to and GPS location at time of capture.In Oklahoma, this recently led to collecting the license plate data of over 2,000 cars suspected of not being legally insured.
As reported, these cameras automatically scan all the license plates within their visibility and instantly compared them to a database that lists vehicles with liability insurance. The images of any vehicles not on the list are then forwarded to the state Uninsured Vehicle Enforcement Diversion office.
Officials say anyone who receives a letter — and can’t prove the vehicle was insured when the photo was taken — faces a $174 fee.
In Ocean City, Maryland, police are set up with these readers at each of the entrances to the resort city. One of these devices alerted police to a suspect wanted in a DEA drug case. A high speed chase ensued, with the suspect crashing into a cop car and injuring an officer. Marylanders got a bit upset when they learned this tech exists. After all, no one really wants to be spied upon.
And you are.
In Maryland, tens of thousands of license plates are stored for a limited time, and police have a process in place that allows them to search the records. It is an excellent tool, having been used to find a missing person and a hit-and-run homicide driver, according to media reports.
Still, knowing Facebook has sold access to everything they know about you, this rightly creeps out people.
Knowing that police departments have taken the property from innocent people using “civil asset forfeiture” and the NSA has, indeed, collected all sorts of digital communications from millions of innocent citizens, it’s not too much of a leap to fear misuse of this data.
Pennsylvania state Rep. Greg Rothman sponsored a bill that would require that the data of every tag captured be destroyed in a year and it would make it illegal to sell the data or share it outside law enforcement agencies.
The bill is rotting in the darkness of committee manila folders.
We all agree this tech helps find stolen cars, insurance jumpers and various criminals. It’s effective. That’s why there actually are private companies using the same technology and hiring themselves out to car repo agents, divorce lawyers and debt collectors.
Enter Republican California state Rep. Joel Anderson. He sponsored a bill to allow people to cover their plates while parked because millions of innocent people’s data has been sold, traded and leaked into the internet.
Police would still be allowed to peek under the covers.
Here’s the really weird part: It failed.
Considering massive public facial recognition is just around the corner, maybe it’s too late to care about license plates, anyway.
Rick Jensen is an award-winning Talk Radio host in Wilmington, Delaware. Reach him at rick@WDEL.com, or follow him on Twitter @Jensen1150WDEL.com.