Looking Up License Plates
Just 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.