To the Editor:
Whenever an editor evokes "1984" as it relates to government intrusion, alarm bells go off ("This is right out of '1984,'" Keith Crain, Feb. 2). The recent iteration on that "sky is falling" theme involves license plate readers, crash-event data recordings and vehicle telemetry tracking (toll transponders).
In my quarter century in the legal system in and around all levels of government, I don't buy it that big government is running amok over our Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures as it relates to automobiles and new technologies.
Sure, governments can track me driving to the Motel 4. They wouldn't know whether I was there to learn house flipping, buy starving art or breach my vows to Mrs. Necheles.
For a practical reason, government is loath to track an ordinary citizen just for the heck of it. If you have observed any criminal courtroom across the country lately, it's clear that prosecutors and police are overwhelmed chasing real crime and violations.
Legally, license plates are displayed in plain, public view. A bored officer sitting at a traffic light can lawfully run a plate with minimal intrusion. If everything is in order, she is unlikely to detain me to inquire about my Motel 4 visit.
It takes volumes to explain it fully. Basically, since Prohibition-era bootlegging, automobiles are afforded less constitutional protection than homes, workplaces and individuals. Autos are highly mobile using the openness of public highways, exhibit evanescent qualities and present unique public safety and regulatory issues.
Checks and balances are in place, and our rights deserve constant vigilance.
Yelling "1984" for potential or imagined abuses is not fruitful.
The writer is an attorney in the transportation industry and a hearing officer for the Illinois Tollway.