Saturday, June 26, 2010
Website that identifies drivers from license plates will be a boon to burglars
by Larry Geller
A new service on the Internet has advocates for domestic violence victims concerned.
A website added a new service this month that can tie license plate numbers to many driver's names.
By law, motor vehicle registration records in Hawaii are secret, except for use by law enforcement. The new service offers a backdoor to that information, for free. [KITV, Website Ties Hawaii License Plates To Drivers' Names, 6/25/2010]
KITV wisely declined to give the website URL on the air, but by now it’s no doubt been found by concerned Googlers wanting to try it out, perhaps to see if their own information is included.
And well they should be concerned—while the information is certainly a danger to domestic violence victims, any of us could be victimized by the ability to easily trance our license plates. The information could be used to point burglars to an empty home.
Say it was not Daryl Huff checking license plates for a TV report—say it was someone looking for a home to break into. A family— father, mother, bunch of kids—get out of the van one morning at Sandy Beach. They unpack the cooler and all the picnic stuff. They’ll be there awhile. Meanwhile, in the shadows, someone has used the Internet program to find out who they are and where they live. In just a few moments, their home could be burglarized. They’re not home, they’re here. Piece of cake.
There ought to be a way to shut this down. I hope we hear whether something can and will be done, or if we have a big problem on our hands.
I think you are crediting burglars with much more professionalism than is typical. Most are addicts and operate in their own neighborhood.
Furthermore, a professional burglar would not drive to some random address to commit a crime simply because information on the internet leads him to think the place is unoccupied. He'd still have no idea if the neighbors were home, what kind of security weaknesses or strengths exist on the property, if the burglary would yield anything portable (and fence-able) of value, etc. Much more logical to case out a "soft" and/or high-value target and ... wait.
What motivated me to write this was burglars who follow Twitter and do pretty much the same thing. Someone tweets that they are having a great time in Vegas and return home to find their place burgled.
So for this database, an accomplice hangs out at some remote location like a beach and calls in the info via cellphone.
There are a couple more comments to this post, but Blogger is coming up with error code bX-o3qgph, and they won't post. Others are having the same problem. This comment should publish because it's mine and so isn't moderated.
As soon as they fix things I'll try again.
Anonymous commented that he/she can't find the web page on Google. I want to assure anonymouses that I haven't even turned on the TV, lots of crime stories in the newspaper. The ones that get on TV are the ones who try to rob banks by writing their notes on the back of credit card receipts. In real life, yes, burglars are intelligent enough to use Google, Twitter, and this new web page as soon as they can find out about it.
I think "Anonymous" doesn't know much about burglars. Some burglars operate alone. Others work with accomplices. There are professional burglars who settle upon a successful modus operandi and commit a string of burglaries with the same MO.
Burglars have been known to cruise neighborhoods, armed with a street directory of phone numbers, calling homes to determine if anyone is home. If there is no answer, they will approach the house with a plausible excuse. Maybe they are yardmen or painters looking to drum up some business. Maybe they are a church group doing a fundraiser to prevent drug use. If no one answers the door and there are no signs of life, they look for a point of easy entry. Often, fences or vegetation will allow for burglars to break in unseen by neighbors. Gardening tools, like rakes and leafblowers provide a good cover for burglars loading up a pickup truck with trashcans full of loot.
Does this online database tying license numbers to addresses create a new opportunity for burglars? I would be more worried about a sexual predator observing an attractive woman at a mall or parking lot, getting her license number and tracking her down to her residence. Rapists can obsess on a particular target, building up a fantasy in their mind convincing themselves they have a special "relationship" with the victim, that the victim wants them or deserves to be attacked.
I think this development is a mistake. Whether it can be blocked, I dunno.
This is taking freedom of information too far. Maybe this will be the door opener to start examining accesses and sites like this for new laws that define and limit what is appropriate.
It is concerning that DMV has divulged our protected information.
Perhaps a class action lawsuit against DMV, state should be started. I donʻt believe showing harm in the technical sense would be necessary; the harm is the constant fear and threat...emotional damge, especially as you say, for women.
The Attorney General needs to weigh in on this and if he canʻt FIX it immediately, they need to be sued.
And perhaps all residents should contest this in a way that makes a public statement: they are contracted through our fees that our information is only for state use, not general public...they have broken that contract by allowing the information to seep.
In arguing to the contrary, Kolea proves my point with his description of the various MO for burglary. Cruising a neighborhood looking for the soft target will not be supplanted by doing address checks of random vehicle registrations. In fact, the reverse phone directory in Kolea's comment is another version of the same scenario, different only in the type of data used. Reverse phone directories are online, too, of course. The difference being that reverse phone directory data (and the potential burglary victims) are organized geographically, whereas vehicles spotted on the road are not.
Nothing in Kolea's comment suggests burglars have any need for a license number. A crime committed as described by Larry's alarmist hypothetical would only add a needless layer of complication.
Google reveals several of commercial DMV lookup sites. Most operate on a subscription basis, with a flat fee for unlimited access to the data for a year. These websites are not novel.
So burglars are supposed to be dumb enough to subscribe to a DMV lookup site and pay for it with their credit cards or something? Note that at least several of the sites I looked at (trying to find the one mentioned on KITV) will provide the info in x number of days. The idea, I think, is that they should not be able to be used in the way the KITV program described, and which (yes, hypothetically for now) could be used to assist burglary.
This thing has just been outed by the KITV coverage. It won't be easy to find out if any evildoers use it or not unless someone is caught and their usage of it ends up in another news story.
Sounds like Anonymous Anonymous : 6:40 PM HST is a 101 student with very a myopic analysis.
He is missing some big points and is still very wrong.
What I would hope for this discussion (and others) is that we give our reasoning, not just point out how someone is right or wrong. I usually take out comments that label someone as this or that, so I wonder if you would like to come back and fill in for us why that particular comment is "wrong."
Like many others have commented, this isn't the first website to divulge this kind of information for free. Heck, even on our own government websites you have a good chance of finding our someone's name by punching in their license plate number.
So I say the KITV article and the *new* website might not be as dangerous as some people think. If a burglar wanted to use the internet for mischief, they didn't need this new website to do it.
So what is the website? I'm pretty pimp with google and can't find the "new" one that is free and instantaneous.
This is an upgrade to the Hawaii Court Connect (Judiciary Information Management System/JIMS) website.
When you punch in the plate, it comes out with all of the citations issued to the car, as well as the person who it was issued to. However, contrary to all the fear-mongering that has been going on in the media, ABSOLUTELY NO ADDRESSES OF THE REGISTERED OWNER IS TIED TO THE LICENSE PLATE.