A bill is headed to California governor Jerry Brown's desk that would authorize a pilot program that would allow a tiny fraction of vehicles in the state to switch to electronic license plates. As Ars Technica reports, the bill has passed both the Assembly and the Senate, and is meant to test out whether "alternatives to the stickers, tabs, license plates, and registration cards" usually used by the DMV could result in cost savings for the state.
The new plates could theoretically display relevant information like whether tags are expired, Amber alerts, or even "Stolen" warnings — such updates could be sent wirelessly to the vehicle. The bill's analysis also mentions a company called "Smart Plate Mobile" which apparently has interest in plates that can display ads and which may take part int he test — though the bill itself does not allow for ads during the test. Smart Plate Corporation, not coincidentally, is founded by the same two men who founded another connected car company called "Revivermx," which says it has a "patent-pending Platform-as-a-Service mobility solution delivers messaging, telematics, and electronic fee collection functionality."
The pilot program is limited to no more than half a percent of all vehicles, and reportedly will be tested primarily with companies that have large fleets, like UPS or FedEx. However, the program does raise privacy concerns, as the plates could also potentially relay location information back to the government. The bill, SB-806, does include at least a small gesture towards preventing that, required that the DMV "shall not receive or retain any information generated during the pilot program regarding the movement, location, or use of a vehicle participating in the pilot program." Even so, the Electronic Frontier Foundation told Ars that "We are worried about any kind of location tracking issue" and that it was "expecting to continue to monitor this."