Â SAN FRANCISCO Â â€“ California may become the first state to issue digital license plates that can be registered electronically and record tolls. Privacy advocates are concerned the plates could become tracking devices for law enforcement.
Instead of a metal license plate, the digital plate would be a computer screen, slightly larger than an iPad. Registering the plates could be done wirelessly.
Arbaaz Sohl of Petaluma told KPIX 5 that he likes the idea. â€œItâ€™s a hassle to go to the DMV,â€ he said, â€œbecause thereâ€™s traffic and everything.â€
State Senate Bill 806 would create a three-year pilot program to test up to 160,000 cars with electronic license plates produced by San Francisco-based startup Smart Plate. The California Department of Motor Vehicles said the plates would save $20 million a year, since renewal tags would not be issued.
Supporters of the measure said the digital plate would look similar to the current plate, but it would also be able to register Fastrak tolls and display Amber Alerts to other drivers.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based digital privacy group, opposes the idea saying it doesnâ€™t protect a driverâ€™s location and personal information. â€œLaw enforcement needs a warrant to be able to put a tracking device on your car. Itâ€™s a possibility the way this program could be implemented, these smart plates could be thatÂ tracking device,â€ said staff attorney Nate Cardozo.
A lobbyist for Smart Plate said the program is geared for big companies with large vehicle fleets and not the average driver, but the measure did not specify.
â€œI kind of like the idea,â€ said Tom Stewart of Benicia. â€œIâ€™m a big proponent of Fastrak and anything that can speed up the day.â€
But Amy Hopkins of Daly City doesnâ€™t like the pilot program at all. â€œThe government will have personal information on people, and thatâ€™s not right,â€ she said.
Three years ago, a proposal would have allowed Smart Plate to produce digital plates with advertisements to generate state revenue, but the measure failed. Advertisements are not being considered in the current bill.
The bill has cleared the State Senate and is now being considered by the Assembly appropriations Committee.