California Considering Electronic License Plates

The California State Senate has just approved a bill to create a pilot electronic license plates program. The hope is digital license plates will make tag renewals easier and more efficient, for the Department of Motor Vehicles, drivers, and the state.

It works like this: a digital license plate, designed like a basic tablet computer, would be affixed to the back of a car. The DMV could then wirelessly update a plate when tabs were renewed. California spends $20 million a year on just postage for plate renewals, not counting the lost productivity due to workers waiting in long lines or the hours state employees spend servicing tag renewals.

Privacy is an issue, as these plate will more than likely feature GPS units. Californians, however, are already tracked via their license plates. Police departments across the state use small cameras to scan and photograph thousands of license plates a day. One man, who had never been in trouble with police, found his car had been photographed twice a week since 2009.

Like with the plate scanners, there seems to be confusion over how the information tracked by the digital plates will be used. One lawyer from the Electronic Frontiers Foundation told The Sacramento Bee the government would have access to your whereabouts anytime it wants. Another lawyer from the same foundation told technologist magazine ARS Technica the government would not have access to your information, the private company supplying the plates would. Either idea isn't terribly comforting, considering this is a murky area of data gathering with little regulation or oversight.



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