New Form of Identity Theft

JD Tuccille has an interesting take on speed cameras from Maryland:

Originating from Wootton High School, the parent said, students duplicate the license plates by printing plate numbers on glossy photo paper, using fonts from certain websites that "mimic" those on Maryland license plates. They tape the duplicate plate over the existing plate on the back of their car and purposefully speed through a speed camera, the parent said. The victim then receives a citation in the mail days later.

Students are even obtaining vehicles from their friends that are similar or identical to the make and model of the car owned by the targeted victim, according to the parent.

JD calls this action "brilliant," and while I feel bad for the car owners who are caught in this trap, I understand his enthusiasm.   His argument, and I hope it is true, is that it won't take much of this sort of activity to greatly undermine whatever public support or trust there is for these cameras.

However, I guess I have less confidence in the state's reaction to this (which is saying a lot, because my read is that JD has zero confidence in the state).  My guess is that rather than back off the cameras, the government will just double-down on it with some crazy-high penalty (e.g. 10 years in prison) for counterfeiting a license plate.  After all, this is what they have done in the drug enforcement world.  You start with trying to ban a little joint-smoking by teens and you end up with millions of people in jail.

Update: Speaking of civil disobedience, here is another great story:

KopBusters rented a house in Odessa, Texas and began growing two small Christmas trees under a grow light similar to those used for growing marijuana. When faced with a suspected marijuana grow, the police usually use illegal FLIR cameras and/or lie on the search warrant affidavit claiming they have probable cause to raid the house. Instead of conducting a proper investigation which usually leads to no probable cause, the Kops lie on the affidavit claiming a confidential informant saw the plants and/or the police could smell marijuana coming from the suspected house.

The trap was set and less than 24 hours later, the Odessa narcotics unit raided the house only to find KopBuster's attorney waiting under a system of complex gadgetry and spy cameras that streamed online to the KopBuster's secret mobile office nearby.

To clarify just a bit, according to Cooper, there was nothing illegal going on the bait house, just two evergreen trees and some grow lamps. There was no probable cause. So a couple of questions come up. First, how did the cops get turned on to the house in the first place? Cooper suspects they were using thermal imaging equipment to detect the grow lamps, a practice the Supreme Court has said is illegal. The second question is, what probable cause did the police put on the affidavit to get a judge to sign off on a search warrant? If there was nothing illegal going on in the house, it's difficult to conceive of a scenario where either the police or one of their informants didn't lie to get a warrant.

Update #2: Alas, the KopBusters seemed to have been playing loose with the truth themselves, and apparently called in a tip to the police to have themselves raided.  Ugh, nothing worse for one's arguments than screw-ups on your own side.


  1. Corky Boyd:

    On the false license plates, I used to live a quarter mile away from Wooten high school before I moved away from the DC area. I wrote the Montgomery Herald telling them that I felt this was a legitimate form of protest, challenging the concept that the car's owner is actionable rather than the driver. I also mentioned it would be fitting if the kids used license plate numbers from a few judges' cars and force them into proving themselves innocent, rather than the constitutional requirement of the state proving them guilty.

    On the grow houses, I have heard the initial tipoff for a grow house is an extraordinarily high electric bill. I was unaware FLIR was not usable. Seems it would be like aerial photography, which I believe is legal.

  2. wolfman:

    I think(and I could be wrong, so feel free to correct me) that the difference between aerial and flir is that aerial photographs would show what is out in the open, so the courts look at it as no expectation of privacy, while IR is checking for things inside the buildings, which most people expect to be private. I don't agree with the aerial logic though. I won't even go into what would be wrong with investigating someone for a high electric bill(Christmas lights anyone?)

  3. jay:

    The Christmas tree guy is just lucky the cops didn't come in on hair trigger, like is often the case in those raids. Unfortunately one of the most dangerous things you can do is make cops look stupid. They have ways of getting back.

  4. Rick C:

    While I don't doubt that continued use of the first kind of trickery (the speed camera fake-out) would eventually result in the higher penalties mentioned, I suspect that first would be an attempt to use alternate cameras. For example, here in Dallas, all the places I'm aware of that have red-light cameras are at intersections that already have multiple traffic-monitoring cameras. If those are being recorded then it wouldn't be hard to try to, for example, use them to get the front license plate.

  5. Rick C:

    While reading the wikipedia link, it occured to me that, if high electric bills are a potential presumption of marijuana growing, alternative methods of providing light, like sola-tubes, or even a house with an enclosed courtyard, might make sense.