Digital license plates could solve Chicago carjackings, but give hackers data

Digital license plates could solve Chicago carjackings, but give hackers data

Chicago’s surge in carjackings prompted an Illinois Secretary of State candidate to call for digital license plates. The plates could be a convenience that could create privacy problems.

A woman in Chicago screamed as a stranger drove off in her Nissan SUV with her 3-year-old in the backseat June 12. Seconds later, the carjacker returned the child to the mother but kept the car.

Carjackings have surged in Chicago and other cities during the pandemic, returning to highs not seen in 20 years. In an effort to prevent similar carjackings, 17th Ward Ald. David Moore, who is running for Illinois Secretary of State, is pushing state leaders to allow for digital license plates.

Introduced in California, Arizona and Michigan, digital license plates offer features not found on regular plates – including tracking abilities when a car is stolen. Digital plates record their location on an app, so car owners can constantly see the location of the digital plates and a stolen vehicle’s location will be shared with law enforcement. The digital plate also will redesign itself to say “STOLEN,” alerting surrounding drivers of the theft.

Moore said digital plates will end the need to go to driver services facilities for vehicle titles, renewal and registration. They also can show messages about Amber and Silver alerts using the same networks as cell phones. He wants them on all Illinois vehicles.

There are privacy concerns about digital plates, which replace traditional metal plates with the equivalent of a tablet. Experts worry about giving the location of a car to the state government, which would make it easier to implement a tax on miles driven for electric vehicles that don’t pay motor fuel taxes for road upkeep.

There is also a lot of data about where a driver goes and driving habits that could be collected, plus data could be vulnerable to hacking.

Some drivers object to turning license plates into traveling advertisements for the state. In California, when drivers park their cars the digital plates will broadcast ads and government messaging. Despite private ownership of plates, the government owns and controls the number and messaging, including ads.

The plates are not cheap. In California, a digital plate with a life span of five years has a final cost of $1,360: $700 for the plate, $100 for the initial subscription fee and $560 for the five years of $7 monthly payments for the cellular network connection.

Moore may be trying to solve the carjacking crisis, but digital license plates raise privacy and cost issues that need to be addressed.

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