Privacy Blog

"Friends don’t let friends get spied on.' – Richard Stallman, President of the Free Software Foundation and longtime advocate of privacy in technology.

California’s new ‘Digital’ License Plates can Track You

California’s dramatic new license plate is hitting the streets — a digital display board that allows changeable messages. Each license plate includes a wireless communication system, computer chips and a battery. The display on the license plate can be changed by the Department of Motor Vehicles but not by the automobile owner.

The wireless communications system is two-way: it both receives and sends data. It can tell the DMV, and presumably police officers, the exact location of the license plate at any time, plus or minus a few feet. The letters and numbers on the license plate also can be changed remotely, such as displaying the word STOLEN.

That’s a good thing for some things and a bad thing for others. Sure, labelling an automobile as stolen would be a big help to law enforcement and to owners of stolen vehicles. However, the capability to determine the precise location of an automobile as well as its current speed increases Big Brother’s capability to watch you.

We also know from experience that not all police officers are totally honest. The person recently arrested as the Golden State Killer was a police officer during the time most of the rapes and murders were committed. Other police officers have been caught using computer databases to snoop on ex-spouses and other family members as well as other enemies. Who says the law enforcement personnel with access to the “Digital License Plates” will only use the technology for legitimate purposes? Will authorized users of the system then be able to give away or sell the information to unscrupulous hackers and others? Similar stories have happened many times before and probably will happen again.

However, if you are brave enough to use these privacy-invasive license plates, be prepared to pay “only” $699 for the device, not including installation costs. In addition, there is a $7 a month fee. The plates are expected to be available only through car dealers, not from the DMV.

You can

If I lived in California, I think I would pass on these license plates.

Categories: Legal Affairs

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