Why the fuss over blurring license plate numbers in photos of cars posted online?
December 17, 2004 2:57 PM   Subscribe

Whenever I see people post photos of their car online, they almost always blur the license plate, which seems an obvious protection, but then I thought: Who on earth besides DMV employees can ever figure anything out from a license plate number? Are there scary public apps that will pull my home address up if my license plate ever shows up in public? I ask because people with custom plates never seem to mind sharing them in photos, and only people running 3HJK23D seem to always protect their identity. Is it much ado about nothing?
posted by mathowie to Technology (13 answers total)
FWIW, I remember a sitcom once where someone reported a hit-and-run with the license plate of a girl he wanted to meet.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:01 PM on December 17, 2004

Up until about 2-3 years ago, the Oregon DMV offered a service that you could get the full name and address of the car's registered owner for a $5 fee.
posted by ..ooOOoo....ooOOoo.. at 3:04 PM on December 17, 2004

Best answer: mathowie, here. :-D

Possible legal reasons here.

'Twas the first item that showed up in google.
posted by shepd at 3:06 PM on December 17, 2004

Response by poster: holy crap. Ok, so there are big scary databases anyone can use to pull up a home address.
posted by mathowie at 3:12 PM on December 17, 2004

Yeah, you can get DMV records pretty easily. Many identity thiefs have complete DMV databases.

Personally, it's not that hard to trace me back to my home address, which is easily available via WHOIS records if you know my domain name. However, I still won't post my license plates because I don't want to be identified while driving down the street. I've been stalked once or twice and it wasn't that much fun, so I'd rather not put myself out on the internet and open that up again.
posted by SpecialK at 3:18 PM on December 17, 2004

Don't feel bad if you didn't google, because all shepd's links show is that the Abika organization will, for money, help you get all sorts of information. They certainly don't seem to be claiming to have the database themselves, nor is it clear whether you need some sort of priviledge to get access to it.

I know that in some states, the addresses that go with license plate numbers has always been a matter of public record; it just used to be that you had to go down to the town hall and fish for them. I believe that in some cases, private citizens took the initiative and put the data online in the early days of the web, and that in others, there are more hoops to be jumped through. But I don't think there's any doubt that you can get someone's address from their license number. I think there was even an Encyclopedia Brown episode that dealt with it. :)
posted by bingo at 3:23 PM on December 17, 2004

A similar phenom is how TV shows will blur the production vehicles' plates. Limos, for example. Which makes even less sense, since I'm sure that trail only goes back to a car rental service.
posted by smackfu at 4:41 PM on December 17, 2004

smackfu: But it might not have the right state, or the right year. :)
posted by bingo at 6:29 PM on December 17, 2004

About 8 years ago in Oregon, someone bought a copy of the DMV Database and put up a nice little web front end on it. All you needed was a license plate and you could get a lot of information.

See http://www.strom.com/awards/36.html - sorry - links aren't coming up in preview
posted by azlondon at 6:42 PM on December 17, 2004

for my job i can do a simple background check with minimal info like license place number, phone number, any piece of data can easy connect a person to their past. it's fucked and i hate having to do it.
posted by moonbird at 6:54 PM on December 17, 2004

A few years ago in Texas, someone was running a site similar to what azlondon describes. You typed in a license plate and it returned the address of the owner, along with links to personal information of all the licensed drivers at that address. See a woman in a car? Want to know where she lives? Want to see if she's married or living with someone? All your one-stop-stalking right there, no charge.
posted by joaquim at 8:44 PM on December 17, 2004

In most states, drivers license registrations are public record, because of laws that prohibit the government from keeping most forms of information a secret. For a fee, you should be able to maek a public records request to get the information.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 12:19 AM on December 18, 2004

Previous AskMe here. And here.
posted by gimonca at 9:20 AM on December 18, 2004

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