By Kenric Ward | Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau
FREDERICKSBURG — A proposal to embed bar codes and radio-frequency ID tags in Virginia license plates is running into opposition.
Proponents say the first-in the-nation surveillance program would aid law-enforcement agencies and could even “unclog traffic.”
Delegate Joe T. May, R-Loudoun, who chairs the House Transportation Committee, asked the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Virginia State Police to study the high-tech venture.
“Automated reading of license plates is going to have to be developed if we’re going to continue with tolling activity that’s already in existence,” May said in a statement.
But civil-liberties groups see a more sinister agenda, and ulterior motives.
“Someone obviously has a lot of time on their hands,” says John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute in Charlottesville.
“My sense is that there’s corporate influence at play – there’s money to be made on this.”
“If you want to unclog traffic, the state already has an opt-in program called EZ Pass,” Whitehead suggests.
“If you want to track suspect cars, police can put on a GPS. But you need a search warrant for that,” he said, citing the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Antoine Jones.
The state’s 76-page report acknowledges potential pitfalls “associated with an Orwellian ‘Big Brother’ government.”
“RFID (radio frequency identification), in particular, is often cited as a key offender of privacy and, in fact, Virginia statute 46.2-323.01 prohibits the use of RFID tags in driver’s licenses. DMV reports that similar concerns have been raised for bar codes,” the report stated.
Then the study goes on to map ways around the law, which specifically refers to “federal law or regulation.”
“By limiting the information contained in a bar code or RFID tag to the license plate type and number, Virginia would alleviate the concerns.”
Still, the report cautions:
“Because the IT infrastructure necessary to support the technology is so extensive and the implementation costs cannot be reliably estimated, (we) could not recommend immediate adoption.”
The ACLU and Whitehead’s group – which don’t always align politically – both say the idea should be stopped now.
The Rutherford Institute is defending a Texas high school student who refused to wear a micro-chipped student ID on the grounds that it violated her religious beliefs, likening it to the “mark of the beast.”
“The (microchip) company made a half-million dollars at this one school. It’s just a big money-making thing,” Whitehead asserted.
The complete list of 35 “stakeholders” who constituted the Virginia “working group” has not been disclosed.
While some law-enforcement agencies say “smart plates” would help them track lost or missing vehicles, Whitehead says police already are scanning license plates.
“This information is being put into a central database even as we speak. Chances are, your license has already been swept.”
As for authorities’ concern that vehicles bearing weathered or framed tags could be difficult to decipher, Whitehead has an easy answer.
“Just pull them over,” he says.
Delegate May said lawmakers will proceed carefully.
“We’re gradually learning how to write legislation so that it protects private information,” he told the Washington Times. “Virginia’s one of those states where we don’t rush into things. We’re going to make certain it’s right.”
May did not respond to Watchdog.org‘s request for an interview by deadline.
Contact Kenric Ward at [email protected] or at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward
— Edited by John Trump at [email protected]