Journalists look for the angle in a story that would stir up the readers. After all, they have to sell papers. “If it bleeds, it leads” is the credo of newspapers and TV newsrooms across the fruited plain. The LA Times just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to add a bit of fuel to a fire. Read it here. I commented on the story before it was written here. Our facebook group is having a time with it here.
So here’s the deal – Ms. Groves at the LA Times did an article on a parking guidance system at a new shopping mall in Santa Monica. It works using License Plate Recognition. There is a neat feature where you can key in your license number and find your car.
Ms. Groves, however, is more concerned about the privacy issues of using a license number to locate your vehicle and potentially charge you for parking than the features of the system and how it makes parker’s life easier. It took her all the way to the second paragraph to set the tone of the article and help the headline writer with his job: “Servant or Snoop in the Parking Garage?”
What to think about all this. It’s not the fault of the LA Times that Americans are sensitive about their privacy. It goes back to the revolutionary war and our long held values that freedom is all about doing what you want as long as it affects no one else and it’s not the government’s business what we do or where.
However, almost daily stories like this find their way into the media. We cannot use a credit card, take a walk in the park, drive down a highway without possibly being recorded or checked. In London, I’m told, you can’t walk a block on a city street without being on at least a dozen cameras.
Many comment that “if you are doing nothing wrong, then why should you care?” Others note that the point is that in a free society we deserve the right to walk about without someone peering over our shoulder. Whether or not we are doing something wrong should make no difference. Still others say that in times like ours, giving up a bit of our privacy is worth it if we can prevent terrorist acts or lower the crime rate.
Ms. Groves in the LA Times wonders if an ex boyfriend could key in your license number at the mall, find out if you are there, and then wait by your car to have a little chat. On the other hand, she points out that a system for finding stolen cars in another mall owned by the same company found 44 cars and resulted in 33 arrests. That’s a great thing. On balance, parkers seemed to like the system in Santa Monica. Turst me, if an ex boyfriend (or girlfriend) wants to find you bad enough to follow you to Santa Monica Place, you have more problems than a system that will help you find your car if it’s lost.
I have always been a have my cake and eat it too kind of guy. I think the ability to find my car if it is lost in a group of 2000 is great. I may also have some concern that I’m not the only one that can find my car. The security upgrade mentioned in the article is a good one – you can use your parking ticket to find your car, not key in the license number. That solves a lot of issues, including the one involving actually having to know your license number.
Skeptics will always say that once you are in the database, there is no getting you out. I’m not too concerned about that. We get in so many databases simply by waking up in the morning I’m not sure a couple of more make any difference.
Santa Monica Place, Amano, and Park Assist have a good system, one which helps people park and find their cars. Not a bad thing. Time for the media to start worrying about things that make a difference, like taxes and government at every level that spends more than it makes. Compared to those problems, this pales in insignificance.