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Bar-coded license plates: Money-maker, privacy-breaker

By   /   January 2, 2013  /   News  /   7 Comments

RADIO ID: Virginia could become the first state in the nation to embed its license plates with radio frequency identification tags.

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.

PROCEED WITH CAUTION: House Transportation Committee Chairman Joe T. May.

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 kenric@watchdogvirginia.org or at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward

— Edited by John Trump at jtrump@watchdog.org


Kenric Ward was a former San Antonio-based reporter for Watchdog.org.

  • There are several huge holes in the arguments presented here.
    There is no privacy out in public. Barcodes would actually help privacy–because they would not be legible to the normal public. Law enforcement tracking of people using public roads isn’t exactly digging in either…you can currently do that with eyes (it is only easier when automated).
    We already have technology to read and track traditional license plates.

  • heidihoneighbor

    Yeah …
    because law enforcement are so trustworthy.

    Let you be their ginny pig

  • Then start debatinng license plates at all….they already have 100% access…..

  • and you want to electronically automate that why? Fool! Sic Semper Tyrannus is our state motto for one reason, LIBERTY!,,

  • VigilantOutlaw

    There’s a simple remedy to the problem if Virginia does start overstepping its bounds; just move out of the state?

    That’s what I will do if it comes to it!

  • Milan

    Actually, the tax payers would save more by reducing collision & congestion related expenses than what fines would generate. Fines are more of a garnishment rather than a worth while focus.

    Also, observing vehicles with suspended, revoked or expired vehicle registration is a far cry from tracking motorists. The difference is huge. Therefore, I disagree with the ACLU. And Rutherford Group.

    Instead of throwing the baby out with the bath water the ACLU & Rutherford group should try a little harder to understand the problem Delegate May is addressing and figure out safe guards for the solution.

    Also, US v Jones is significantly different from what May proposes. Jones doesn’t fit this argument at all. Nice try though.

  • suzyframe

    Wow that sounds super interesting! I always wondered if they would ever look into making bar code plates! I find this super interesting! Can you tell me where I might be able to find more information like this? Thanks again for sharing!