Saturday, December 8, 2012

What Big Eyes You Have

OldNFO had a recent post lamenting the death of privacy in this country. That prompted me to write this post. I'd been thinking along those same lines, but on a more local level.

I originally snapped to this when the Texas DMV announced they were scrapping the current license plate design in favor of a 'classic' or 'retro' look. I was upset, because IMO it continued a trend from iconic plates that celebrated our state's heritage to less distinctive, blander plates.

In 2000 we had plates that included a stylized red white and blue state outline, a cowboy on horseback, the space shuttle, oil wells, and the Texas night sky ("The stars at night, are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas..."). I really, really liked that one.


In 2009 the design was changed to a more abstract conception of the Texas sky, along with a Lone Star. It was okay, but not as appealing as the previous one.


Then, this summer, came the announcement that the design was changing yet again to new plates designed 'for public protection.'
The Department of Motor Vehicles ... said the plate ... is designed for the highest public safety protection.

The new plate is black and white with vertical-running security threads in the sheeting. The threads will help law officers better identify a legitimate plate from a distance.

Letters and numbers will be an inch wider and slightly taller.
I was a bit skeptical about that explanation, but trusting fool that I am, I went along with it.

Until I read this.
For more than two years, the police in San Leandro, Calif., photographed Mike Katz-Lacabe's Toyota Tercel almost weekly. They have shots of it cruising along Estudillo Avenue near the library, parked at his friend's house and near a coffee shop he likes. In one case, they snapped a photo of him and his two daughters getting out of a car in his driveway.

Mr. Katz-Lacabe isn't charged with, or suspected of, any crime. Local police are tracking his vehicle automatically, using cameras mounted on a patrol car that record every nearby vehicle—license plate, time and location.

"Why are they keeping all this data?" says Mr. Katz-Lacabe, who obtained the photos of his car through a public-records request. "I've done nothing wrong."

Until recently it was far too expensive for police to track the locations of innocent people such as Mr. Katz-Lacabe. But as surveillance technologies decline in cost and grow in sophistication, police are rapidly adopting them.
Why in the name of all that's Holy are the police tracking the activites of innocent people in the first place? We should be challenging that behavior, not subsidizing it.
During the past five years, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has distributed more than $50 million in federal grants to law-enforcement agencies—ranging from sprawling Los Angeles to little Crisp County, Ga., pop. 23,000—for automated license-plate recognition systems. A 2010 study estimates that more than a third of large U.S. police agencies use automated plate-reading systems.

A report by the International Association of Chiefs of Police warns that "recording driving habits" could raise First Amendment concerns. It noted that plate readers might record "vehicles parked at addiction-counseling meetings, doctors' offices, health clinics, or even staging areas for political protests."
Now when I think about the new Texas license plates, it makes a disturbing kind of sense. Remeber that line about "Letters and numbers will be an inch wider and slightly taller?"

The better to see you with, my dear...

9 comments:

Harper said...

We are the recent recipient of a 'Smart Meter'. Our electric provider now knows, in real time, when we turn on or off our lights, appliances, electronic devices, HVAC, etc. But surely no one will take that information and use it for evil...

Brigid said...

I am very glad our "new" plates are still red white and blue and have :In God we Trust on them" in big letters.

But the day is probably coming. . . .

Old NFO said...

That just sucks, and yes they ARE watching us... sigh

CenTexTim said...

Harper - As I understand smart meters around here, not only do they track usage, but they allow the electric company to turn off your power during times of overuse, to prevent blackouts. I may be wrong, but...

Brigid - you're 100% correct. Red, white, blue, and In God we Trust are endangered species...

NFO - Yessir. It's the frog in the boiling pot of water syndrome...

Harper said...

You are correct about the meters, Tim, we can't be far from the electric company enforcing conservation via individualized brown or black outs. An added bonus of the meters it that they emit radiation, but that's not bad, right?

CenTexTim said...

The radiation lets you read them in the dark.

Did you have a choice, or did the electric company mandate the change? Down here it's still voluntary. As an incentive, anyone who switches to a smart meter gets a reduced rate.

kerrcarto said...

Hah, just happened to read this post while watching 1984. You will just love this!

CenTexTim said...

Got a follow-up coming. Stay tuned...

Harper said...

No opt out allowed - and we don't have any choice in provider as we have a co-op.