Hey, Here's A Great New Use For License Plate Readers
Two weeks ago, the B&B took the time to educate me about license plate readers and their various extra-legal uses. As someone who has worked at least part-time in the tech industry since the mid-90s, I started thinking about what the cost would be of a distributed plate-tracking business. Eventually the readers will be smaller and less obvious, at which point you throw a couple of bucks to Uber drivers and the like to toss them on all four corners and send you the data.
Given enough sources, eventually you’d be able to have a pretty good database of personal movement in your chosen area. That data is certainly worth money to someone, whether that “someone” is a real-estate developer, a fast-food franchisor or a private detective. Short of writing legislation specifically to stop such activity, I don’t see how anybody’s going to stop that business model from eventually becoming a reality.
In the meantime, however, there’s already one entity that has access to a nontrivial database of ANPR information. Good news! At least one government official has proposed that this information be used to save you from yourself.
Los Angeles councilwoman Nury Martinez has inspired a some odd devotion from her constituents. I can’t tell if she’s really as good looking as she seems to be in some of her publicity photos or not, but this is 2015; what a woman looks like is of no consequence to anyone but me and my huddled band of cisgender ortho-straight white non-otherkin men huddled in the caves of Altamira waiting for Anita Sarkeesian’s hunter-killer drones to deliver the napalm-enhanced “final solution” to the pathetically miniscule group of those of us XY-chromos who still like driving a Corvette to a girl’s house and making out with her sans fur suits or notarized documentation for each removed article of clothing.
Ms. Martinez states that she is “the product of (Los Angeles) public schools and the first in her family to graduate from college.” As a consequence, I doubt she ever was troubled too much by excessive adherence on the part of her educators to the classical standard. It seems unlikely that she was ever lectured on the Constitution or American history or even the English common law to any tremendous extent. For that reason, I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt about her great new idea, which is:
… to access a database of license plates captured in certain places around the city, translate these license plates to obtain the name and address of each owner, and send to that owner a letter explaining that the vehicle was seen in, “an area known for prostitution.” Councilwoman Martinez feels that prostitution is not a “victimless” crime, and that by discouraging johns, the incidence of the crime can be reduced. Martinez told CBS Los Angeles, “If you aren’t soliciting, you have no reason to worry about finding one of these letters in your mailbox. But if you are, these letters will discourage you from returning. Soliciting for sex in our neighborhoods is not OK.”
What Ms. Martinez is proposing is actually a rather old-school solution to an even older-school problem. The anonymity afforded by the modern city and the modern automobile allow women to be victimized and exploited in a manner that could not happen in Small Town, USA. These letters would de-anonymize the process, as it were, and would function as a sort of “shaming” similar to what your humble author once felt when he went to his university pharmacy to buy condoms and saw his architecture professor in line ahead of him. (NB, younger readers: This was before Tinder, back when people actually used condoms with people whom they did not know well.)
At the same time, this is social-justice “doxxing” at its best. Would any of us like to have our co-workers informed of the fact that we’ve been kerb-crawling? Whose business is that? Is it the kind of thing you want to explain to your grandchildren 30 years after the fact, when “Alphabet” acquires the city database and puts it online for everybody to read?
Furthermore, won’t this serve to further ghetto-ize the district? If driving into the area to perform acts of charity, coach a kids’ sports team — or even to shop — results in the City of Los Angeles identifying you publicly as a pay-for-play superstar, wouldn’t it be a better idea to stay home in Simi Valley? What will Ms. Martinez say then, when it’s apparent that nobody will come to her town? At the very least, it would certainly hamper any Romeo-and-Juliet-style romances between two districts to have Romeo’s parents get a notice in the mail, wouldn’t it?
In the short term, it’s hard to imagine this proposed legislation surviving either the legislative or the judicial branches of government. It’s worth noting, however, that the very doctrine of “progressive” political thinking involves moving concepts from the extreme left to the center over time. When I was a kid, after all, I was taught that “courage” meant charging a machine-gun nest or swimming the English Channel or climbing Everest. Today, we reserve that word for Caitlyn Jenner and 23-year-old male Syrian “refugees.” If public opinion about the use of ANPR and related data changes over time, we’ll hear the usual claptrap about the Constitution being a “living” document and the protections offered by said living document will be swept away by judicial fiat.
Imagine living in a world where the ANPR enforced a very particular set of moral values. Would we make adultery just as shame-able as soliciting prostitution? Would all marriages be safe if there was always the possibility of a letter in this afternoon’s mailbox, exposing one’s perfidy? Maybe not. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that your humble author squired a variety of married ladies around in a lime-green Audi that was literally unique in the entire world. Perhaps I could catch Ms. Martinez’s eye. Truly, I’m the perfect candidate for her. I have the morals of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi’s adversaries. I adore Latina women; at one point in 2012 I realized that six of the last seven women I’d dated had a name like “Martinez.” Best of all, however, I have a Porsche 911, and it has an out-of-state license plate.
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