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Looking Up License Plates

July 4th, 2010 by Ryan Ozawa · 5 Comments · Technology, The Web

Vanity PlateJust how public are public records? Last week, KITV’s Daryl Huff raised the alarm about a website that can tie Hawaii license plates to driver names. The first piece did not identify the website, however. Huff said Nanci Kreidman of the Domestic Violence Action Center asked them not to, citing concerns that it would be used to stalk or harass women.

But a follow-up story three days later explained that the website was eCourt Kōkua, run by the state courts system.

“The state judiciary system said it upgraded its eCourt-Kokua traffic court information service to help people look up their own parking tickets. It also gives a driver’s name if he or she has been charged with a moving violation or summons for parking tickets. Court administrators said privacy is protected because the information does not include telephone numbers, addresses or social security numbers.”

Like most public records, this information was always available to the public. It was just much more difficult to get, requiring visits to government offices, conversations with clerks, and filling out a form or two. As a wannabe journalist, I applaud any government effort to increase access to information… particularly as budget and staff cuts would otherwise make it harder to research and report the news.

On the other hand, I admit that most people would be surprised at just how much information about them is floating around out there. And yes, you can look up my violation of HRS 286-25 (“no current safety check”).

Still, it’s important to note that eCourt Kōkua is not connected to the Department of Motor Vehicles database. You can’t look up any license plate, only license plates on cars involved in various cases. And in many cases, the record will not identify anyone. When a ticket is left on a windshield for an expired parking meter, for example, it’ll just say, “Unknown Party.”

And as the “van cam” fiasco demonstrated, a car, its registered owner, and the person behind the wheel at the time of a citation are three things that aren’t necessarily connected.

With this new resource, though, I couldn’t help but look up some of the license plates people have posted to Zapatag.com, a site I built for people to report bad drivers (and good ones, too). Perhaps not surprisingly, drivers whose antics were noteworthy enough to post on the site were likely to be noticed by law enforcement, too.

Examples? Hawaii license plate KEPOOM has five cases linked to it, three for parking violations and two for speeding. Hawaii license plate NWP821 has seven cases — six for parking, one for speeding. NPF058 has eight cases — seven for parking, and one for disregarding a stop sign. And that’s the same careless act reported on Zapatag.com.

And that’s just the last three plates posted by Matt, a.k.a. Yoda808. I could do this all night.

The best way to not show up in eCourt Kōkua is to not drive or park badly… or at least, not get caught.

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5 Comments so far ↓

  • LIn McIntosh

    I think this site is the missing piece to my desire to be able to search for a single man, over the age of ***, who has recently refinanced his house for more than $2 million, with no DUI conviction. Or are birth/death records sealed?

  • Chas @ LLL Reviews

    ahhhh…. this one definitely falls under the whole privacy or lack there-of issue.

    There is so much information made available. I just seen a commercial the other week saying “anyone can do background checks. See who you are really dating?” (ad for some website) and then the next commercial will be “identity theft, be careful. Do regular credit checks, etc” (another website).

    I must admit that I am mostly someone who doesnt mind certain breech in information because I just dont do anything. I did get a parking ticket for feeding the wrong meter *ugh* but I paid it, counted my loss and moved on.
    Does this website show paid tickets or just out standing ones?

    Anyhow, I did not know of the site but I bet my husband- he is always up on the newest info!

    Great post!

  • Alex Cortez

    I worked in financial research for a couple of years, during which as part of my work I had to obtain numerous court records to perform due diligence. Most people would be shocked to know just how much of their stuff is readily available (and in many cases online AND free of charge) to anyone who asks. Btw, I didn’t know about your Zapatag site, I’ll definitely have to check it out.

  • billso

    One reason that license plates were created was to help people report bad drivers. Traffic and parking citations have been part of the public record for decades. The Internet has made it easier to find and make reports.

  • SteveJberry

    My question is, if it’s published in public information, couldnt the information lead people to lead to belive listed items are convictions when they are still being judged.

    or.. are only convicted offenses being listed. if that’s the case – if this information is used against someone, how do you get it removed? get a new plate?

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