Creepy plates


Drones. NSA phone spying. License tags.

This has to be a story that will set fire to some heated conversations. South Carolina is considering switching from metal license plates to e-tags.

So the plate (actually electronic paper) could suddenly read STOLEN if somebody swipes the car. It could read SUSPENDED, or UNINSURED if the owner does not insure or lets it lapse, or be used in emergencies such as Amber Alerts. And of course if it could do that, how hard would it be to make it do other things? Maybe it could say TEENAGER or LOUSY DRIVER.

The e-tag would be powered by the vehicle’s vibrations and by solar energy and could stay visible without power for ten years. And of course you wouldn’t have to line up to renew it or spend so much time at the DMV when you buy a new vehicle.

But still…

Maybe we’ve turned a corner. Maybe the miracle of the digital e-era is beginning to be less amazing and more “wait a minute.”

In the not too distant past–months only, maybe–we may have thought that this was a way to avoid DMV lines, make  our law-abiding lives simpler and save us from uninsured drivers and felons stealing someone else’s car. In other words, make life easier and safer.

Now we’re not so sure. Maybe the DMV line is preferable to that nagging fear that someone in a government office is watching us. The e-tags would not track your movement, say the makers (but they could with a series of court orders). Consider also how the word “hacker” has become an everyday part of the lexicon. If they can hit your bank account and steal your identity, how long before your e-tag says SUCKER?

I can see people, given the choice, doing something counter-intuitive and saying “I’ll wait in line for the tin one, thanks.”