Whay do they blur license plates on TV shows?
July 30, 2008 11:53 AM   Subscribe

Why blur license plates on TV shows?

What can one do with a plate number? I mean, you can't search it unless you are a cop, right?
posted by fixedgear to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total)
There are services online that will let you search a liscense plate number for a fee. Also private investigators can look up plates.
posted by rancidchickn at 12:01 PM on July 30, 2008

Unscrupulous or misinformed DMV people have been known to give up people's personal information when given a license plate number.
posted by jessamyn at 12:10 PM on July 30, 2008

OK, that makes perfect sense, but for point of clarification let's just say one is watching Ice Road Truckers (guilty pleasure) and there is a shot of a tractor trailer. The license plate of the trailer is blurred. What could someone do with that? "The truck in question is registered to Joe Blow's Trucking, Yellowknife NW Territories."
posted by fixedgear at 12:15 PM on July 30, 2008

Suppose you absolutely LOVED the guy in the car. He's your one and only, you were meant to be together. Get the license plate, find out who he is, and let the stalking commence!

It's a blanket safety mechanism, no reason not to.
posted by Lemurrhea at 12:19 PM on July 30, 2008

An old query
posted by milkrate at 12:22 PM on July 30, 2008

It's a blanket safety mechanism, no reason not to. that didn't always exist, i.e. it's sort of a recent phenomenon.
posted by fixedgear at 12:34 PM on July 30, 2008

Everyone who appears on TV needs to sign a release and if a random car is in the scene they may not have a release from the driver, hence they need to blur faces and/or nameplates. I honestly think the only people in danger are the TV producers who might get sued by the owners of said plates. For what I'm not really sure.
posted by GuyZero at 1:04 PM on July 30, 2008

Wait...this is an EXCELLENT question, and I still don't feel that a legitimate answer has been given. A lot of these so called "answers" are things that I have thought up...but I'm still not sure.

I see this on reality shows all the time. Why do they cover up license plates when they are just cars in the background, and the scene is somewhere totally public (times square, rodeo drive, gateway arch)?

License plates are to be used for identification purposes, and you CAN get info from them if you know someone who works at the DMV...but you can also get thousands of plates on the street by just driving around. No need to watch tv for 12 hours to get 3 plate numbers.

Whats up with that?
posted by hal_c_on at 2:34 PM on July 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yes, and hal_c_on sorta reminds me that despite number one's old question and answers, it's just not universally applied. News stories on high gas prices, for example, never have blurred plates, while reality TV almost always does.
posted by fixedgear at 2:39 PM on July 30, 2008

What Guyzero said. It's more about protecting the producers of the show than anyone in the cars.
posted by Rykey at 5:38 PM on July 30, 2008

I've always assumed that this practice began (or at least became common practice) in reaction to the murder of Rebecca Schaeffer, who was killed by a stalker who got her home address from the DMV.

I unfortunately have no sources to back this up other than it was a fairly major entertainment-industry story at the time and would have no doubt been an eye-opener to TV producers. It definitely did lead to the revision of a number of California's information-privacy laws. If anyone has documentation of license-blurring being widespread before 1989, then my theory would be bunk.
posted by range at 7:00 PM on July 30, 2008

I was thinking about this on the way home and I have a secondary theory. There may not be a law requiring the blurring per se, but there may have been a lawsuit that set a strong precedent in the matter. If there's a TV lawyer in the house, pipe up Matlock.
posted by GuyZero at 10:10 PM on July 30, 2008

There are no laws AFAIK, IANAL, only liabilities that production companies' lawyers are paid to avoid, circumvent, deflect, or prevent.
posted by Rykey at 12:42 PM on July 31, 2008

Late to party, but one security reason is as follows:

Let's say (purely as an example, of course) I'm looking to steal a car to rob a bank. Let's say I see a white Corolla on TV with a legible license plate. Then I steal a white Corolla, and doctor some plates to reflect the number I saw on TV - It won't survive close scrutiny, but if someone reports a stolen white Corolla and a cop sees my car and runs the plate, it will come up as the non-stolen white Corolla.
posted by jalexei at 12:48 PM on July 31, 2008

jalexei...but why do you need the tv to find that white corolla? You can find about tons more corollas in real life than you can from tv. It would be easier for you to go outside, or even to a walmart parking lot, shopping for a license plate and then carrying out your hypothetical task.

Question STILL not answered. Does anybody really KNOW?
posted by hal_c_on at 3:49 PM on August 2, 2008

Question STILL not answered. Does anybody really KNOW?

Yes. Liability.
posted by Rykey at 3:29 PM on August 3, 2008

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