License Plate Scanning to Combat Prostitution Raises Privacy Concerns

File Photo: VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images

In what sounds more like the central conceit of a Philip K. Dick novel, the San Fernando Valley City Council has requested that the City Attorney’s Office investigate the merit of a bizarre approach to fighting prostitution.

City council members approved a proposal from Nury Martinez this week that would utilize automatic license plate scans, in an attempt to catch potential prostitution solicitors in the act… by scanning the plates of any drivers in the neighborhoods frequented by prostitutes.

After finding their personal information through the local Department of Motor Vehicles, the idea is to let the driver — or their wife, girlfriend or mother — know about it via a “Dear John” letter sent to their home. License plate data scanning has been a hot topic of discussion among the ACLU and privacy advocates and is currently under investigation to determine its legal standing.

The plan was pushed along to the City Attorney’s office for a further vote. If passed, a wrong turn or the simple frequenting of a local business could cause dire consequences to an everyday citizen. As if the neighborhood in question isn’t already dealing with enough hardship from the overwhelming presence of prostitutes, this attempt to reduce the local problem would only make things worse. Beyond meddling in private lives, this proposal offers no real solution beyond the potential for embarrassment — whether or not you’re actually guilty of anything.

Martinez released a statement on Wednesday, asserting, “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.”

Unfortunately for residents of the San Fernando Valley, “innocent until proven guilty” may soon turn into guilt by general vicinity. It’s only ludicrous and unbelievable until it happens.

Nate Church is @Get2Church on Twitter, and he can’t become a wildly overhyped internet celebrity without your help. Follow, then retweet and favorite everything he says. It’s the Right Thing To Do™!