APPLETON - If you see someone driving around Appleton taking pictures of license plates, apparently it's the government tracking down more information about us.
But the Department of Transportation says it is conducting a vehicle registration compliance survey.
Using a private contractor to take pictures of license plates, the DOT is creating a database. But it's what the department is doing with it that is concerning to some drivers.
If you live in Appleton, someone could be taking pictures of your car and you might not even know it.
"DOT is trying to get a sense of if it's a problem and how big a problem is it that vehicles are not registered or have expired registration," said DOT Motor Vehicle Program Specialist Vikki VanDeventer.
The Department of Transportation is doing a three-part study of vehicle registration. The first part is collecting license plate info from 2,200 vehicles in eight different counties. A survey will also be mailed to 500 homes. Finally, the results will be studied with a goal of making the registration process more convenient and cost-effective for taxpayers. But VanDeventer says those who might be caught with expired registration won't be getting a citation in the mail.
"It's not big brother in that nothing ties back to the individual. The data file only includes the plate number, the expiration date and the vehicle's year, make, model and color."
But not everyone we talked to buys that explanation. In fact, some drivers we talked to wonder what else the state might do with their personal information.
"It's strictly an invasion of privacy and that's mainly why people don't like the government right now, because they're sticking their nose into everybody's business," said Bruce Hansen of Gillett.
But others say they aren't as concerned.
"It's not in my comfort level but I don't know that I am majorly bothered. I think they could find most of what they need online," said Sara Williams of Neenah.
The pictures are being taken by a company based in Madison, not the DOT. VanDeventer says the survey itself cost the state $118,000.
"If you want really accurate information, you need people who specialize in that kind of thing."
"We ought to be saving money, not wasting money and this is another example of the government wasting money," said Tom Lennon of Appleton.
But the jury is still out on whether taxpayers will appreciate the effort.
The DOT says options could include more detailed registration renewal stickers or doing away with the stickers all-together.
They say a report on the survey results will be finished by next summer.
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