We have deep concerns over the government’s scheme to “repeal and replace” all conventional vehicle license plates in the Cayman Islands with electronic tags over the next three years.

We are equally troubled by what the government may be attempting to know about the activities of law-abiding motorists, as we are about what we don’t know about the government’s plan.

The government’s usual inclination, regardless of how insignificant, technically obtuse or far-fetched a particular idea is, is to host an interminable series of town hall meetings to talk out a proposal. For example, consider plans for the (apparently now-stalled) cruise port, arts and culture policy, Oxitec mosquitoes, etc.

And yet, with the electronic tags — which has quickly evolved from idea to reality — there has been no period of public input that we’re aware of, and nearly all aspects of the plan have never been explained adequately.

Just for starters:

Whose idea is this? As far as we can tell, the impetus seems to have come from Planning Minister Kurt Tibbetts, and not directly from the Department of Vehicle and Drivers’ Licensing, Royal Cayman Islands Police Service or the National Roads Authority.

What, exactly, are the capabilities of the devices that will be attached to everybody’s automobiles? Nobody has stated what it will take for the government to move from the relatively straightforward installation of electronic tags and coupons, to having an island-wide system that scans, tracks and stores information on the movements of people’s cars.

Where are these devices coming from? We still don’t know the identity of the manufacturer, any local vendor or what entity might maintain a full-blown tracking system.

When might a tracking system be implemented? The process and timeline for laying down a network of “monitors” are still mysteries.

Why is the government doing this? Is the system designed to help police track criminals (which the plates themselves, apparently, cannot do), or is it to prevent the supposedly widespread theft of number plates? (Before officials turn their attention to stolen plates, how about addressing far more obvious and ubiquitous problems, such as obscured plates, missing plates or eliminating vehicles such as dirt bikes that aren’t even eligible for plates?)

And, perhaps most importantly, how much is all this going to cost?

The government has spent millions of dollars on Grand Cayman’s closed-circuit television network without ever having to demonstrate “value for money,” to justify the real and potential invasion of people’s privacy, or to show that the information being collected is secured, safeguarded and protected from misuse.

It appears to us the electronic tag scheme has two possible outcomes: It is either a significant additional step toward transforming Cayman into a surveillance state, where public authorities employ watchful electronic eyes to oversee the behavior of all citizens, “just in case” — or, if the entire system never becomes operative, it’s another wasteful government boondoggle, where officials used taxpayer funds to purchase a bill of goods they can never fully utilize, didn’t understand and don’t want.

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  1. I did some research on electronic license plates.
    The UK currently has in operation electronic license plate recognition. As does Florida (and doubtless other states) for toll payment.
    But these rely on camera recognizing regular metal license plates.

    A company in S Carolina, has developed an electronic license plate that no one is apparently using yet.

    This seems to be more sophisticated than any being used as the metal plate is replaced by some sort of screen connected wirelessly to a mobile network. It could be used to flash STOLEN or UNINSURED for instance.

    California is also toying with using them

    But in my limited research I couldn’t find any country or state actually using them.

    Are we going to be a test country for this?
    Have these license plates actually been acquired?
    How would you prevent them being unscrewed and put on another vehicle?