(Published in The Cayman Reporter, February, 23, 2017)
Is big brother watching you? That’s the question on many people’s lips with government’s plan to replace more than 40,000 vehicle number plates with electronic ones.
The process is expected to take up to three years to implement and the cost to the public purse has yet to be revealed. The new plates are set to go into circulation later this month.
According to government, the electronic plates will be fitted with embedded radio transmitters which are activated when vehicles cross over monitors. The monitors will be installed island wide.
The new plates are designed to make registration of vehicles more seamless, allow police to know the last general vicinity in which the vehicle was driving, and also help with future road planning by assisting with the monitoring of traffic patterns and flow. Information provided by the plates will be used by the DVDL and the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service.
In this issue we asked readers to share their opinions on the scheme. Their reactions were mixed. Some thought it a good idea. “Anyway to track down stolen cars has to be a good thing in my mind,” Lorna Harvey said. Others, such as Pheadra McDonald, were more hesitant, believing it to be an invasion of personal privacy and a “bad idea.”
Indeed, in a world where our actions and movements are increasingly watched and monitored, anything that increases this is always going to stir up issues regarding privacy. Mechanisms whereby data remains anonymous so as it can be used for general information with respect to regulating traffic flows may have mitigated some of the concerns regarding privacy, but in the absence of this, there is scope for legitimate concern.
The criminal justice system, for example, is able to monitor the movements of those who have committed criminal offences by the use of an electronic tag system. However, impinging on the privacy of an individual is justifiable in the context of such wrongdoing, indeed it is part of a process of punishment. The offender’s liberty is restricted by, for example, a curfew and their privacy is reduced by the monitoring process. To impose a monitoring process on those who have not been subject to censure by the courts is a much more ominous and much less justifiable proposition.
Law enforcement is of paramount importance in any civilised country but Cayman’s roads seem to be awash with vehicles and driver behaviour in clear defiance of the law. Many cars on island still have tinted windows and a significant number have number plates unreadable as a result of obscuring covers that make them legible only at the closest of quarters. There are also a number of vehicles on island with spiked wheel bolts. Think of the chariots in the film Spartacus and you will not be far off. It also seems at times to be more usual to see drivers with a mobile phone in hand than without. Drunk driving continues to be a scourge upon our society. We wonder whether perhaps before government go ahead with electronic plates that their focus should be getting more police on the roads for basic traffic enforcement?
Most people want government to ensure efficient regulatory processes and anyone using the roads on a regular basis, which means just about everyone, can only forlornly hope for better traffic flow and reduced congestion. As much as we agree with these aims, properly enforcing road traffic laws in order to reduce the terrible consequences of such unsafe practices that lead to loss of life and limb we would suggest should be of far higher priority.