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Data Privacy and Security

Proposed e-license plates can be altered remotely and may be used to track you

A pair of South Carolina lawmakers has introduced legislation that would pave the way for a pilot program involving electronic license plates that could be altered remotely by the state's DMV.

The "e-tags" would make it easy for drivers to switch plate numbers as a car changes hands, or they could be used to display messages to the public such as "SUSPENDED," "UNINSURED," or "STOLEN." The e-tags, which are accessed via cellular network, could--in theory--also be used to track a car's whereabouts.

The proposed e-tags, manufactured by SC-based Compliance Innovations use low-power electronic paper technology similar to that available in the Kindle e-reader. The e-plates could remain completely inert for up to 10 years without any charge and would only require energy if they were to change their display, which the plate would draw from the car's kinetic movements or solar power.

DMV is watching

Each plate could be altered remotely if a car changes owners, a vehicle is reported stolen, or a driver's license is suspended. On the plus side, that would mean fewer trips to the DMV and could act a deterrent to would-be thieves (whose cellular hacking skills are not up to snuff). It has even been suggested that the plates could be used to issue region-wide Amber Alerts.

A traditional metal plate costs between $3 and $7 to produce. The manufacturer hopes economies of scale would allow it to reduce the cost of an e-tag to below $100 (or they could just buy a bunch of Nooks, which are getting real cheap).

Potentially the connected plates might allow a car's location to be tracked via the cellular network. According to the manufacturer, the proposed legislation would require authorities to obtain three court orders to track a car's wearabouts: from the DMV, the cellular network, and the plate's manufacturers.

And as we all know, that set-up is completely infallible.

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