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posted by CoolHand on Tuesday May 09 2017, @05:44PM   Printer-friendly
from the little-freedoms dept.

A bill in the California Senate would allow drivers to cover their license plates when parked to prevent automated license plate readers from reading them. Law enforcement (or somebody else) would have to manually lift the cover to obtain the license plate number:

If the Electronic Frontier Foundation and a San Diego-based Republican state senator have their way, it will soon become legal for Californians to cover their license plates while parked as a way to thwart automated license plate readers.

[...] As written, the new senate bill would allow for law enforcement to manually lift a cover, or flap, as a way to manually inspect a plate number. The idea is not only to prevent dragnet license plate data collection by law enforcement, but also by private companies. A California company, Vigilant Solutions, is believed to have the largest private ALPR database in America, with billions of records.

Ars is unaware of a commercially available product that would allow a license plate to be easily blocked in this fashion. A man in Florida was arrested earlier this year for using a miniature black screen that could be activated via remote control as a way to block his plate number when he passed through automated toll booths.

The new bill will come up before the California State Senate Transportation and Housing Committee on Tuesday, May 9—the first stop in the legislative process.

The California Police Chiefs Association has already filed its opposition to the bill. In a letter to Sen. Joel Anderson, the group argued that the bill would only benefit one group: "those who are trying to evade law enforcement and detection." Similarly, the bill has faced resistance from the California Public Parking Association, among other groups.

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  • (Score: 2) by Grishnakh on Tuesday May 09 2017, @09:32PM (2 children)

    by Grishnakh (2831) on Tuesday May 09 2017, @09:32PM (#507133)

    Ok, but there again, can't that be done by simply passing a law against it? European nations are pretty famous for their data privacy laws; California could do the same thing. Of course, it wouldn't apply nationwide, but it should still have a pretty big effect (since so many companies have operations in CA, and it's to protect CA citizens and residents). And it's a whole lot more realistic to just pass a law, and then use the courts and heavy fines to punish law-breakers, than to expect people to put automatic James-Bond-style license-plate blockers on their cars.

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 10 2017, @12:02AM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 10 2017, @12:02AM (#507200)

    Ok, but there again, can't that be done by simply passing a law against it?

    Scanning plates is BIG business. Every repo man has a scanner now and they all upload to mega databases that sell that info to other repo men and PIs, police, the DEA, insurance companies, and a bunch of other groups you would never guess.

    Thus any such law will engender a huge legal battle involving freedom of speech (the freedom to communicate what you see in public).
    I'm all for having that battle, it needs to happen (and Big Data needs to lose badly) but it will not be "simple."

    • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Wednesday May 10 2017, @02:07PM

      by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday May 10 2017, @02:07PM (#507539) Journal

      I wouldn't mind if Repo men had a local database in their vehicle of which cars they are looking for, including cars that other Repo men are looking for. I wouldn't mind if their scanner read plates, checked them with the list of cars to Repo, and then discarded all plates that are not of interest to any Repo man.

      What I want to avoid is anyone building a database of where all cars were at certain times. I don't want anyone being able to later, interrogate some database they built to track the patterns of movement of people.

      I think the automation of legitimate reasons to read plates is okay. In order words, to automate what a human might do. A policeman driving around looking for plates that are on a list on a clipboard, and not remembering all the plates he might have looked at which were not on that list. Similarly, a Repo many looking for plates on a list, but not remembering plates he saw that were not on the list. License plates exist to identify the vehicle. And there are legitimate reasons to read them. But never before was it practical to build databases of where cars were spotted at certain location-time coordinates.

      In other words, if police are looking for stolen vehicles, suspect vehicles, or vehicles wanted for some other reason (parking tickets), I have no problem making it easier to find them -- as long as it is done in a way that makes it virtually impossible to build a database of where all cars each time a police car or repo cars passes by. I also think that repo menu using this technology should probably need some kind of state license so that the state knows who is lawfully using license plate readers.

      When trying to solve a problem don't ask who suffers from the problem, ask who profits from the problem.