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Monday, June 27, 2005

Chron goofs on PhotoBlocker story

Our beloved hometown rag today has a story on PhotoBlocker, a spray that supposedly renders license plates invisible to red light cameras:
But before Phantom Plate Inc. can start counting its money in Houston, it may face a battle in the City Council or the Legislature. Houston Police Department Lt. Robert Manzo said the city may want to consider an ordinance or a state law against PhotoBlocker. "So people are already gearing up to defeat the system, huh?" Manzo asked. "We're not happy to hear this product is available and already being marketed to Houston before the cameras are even installed. This is obviously going to be a concern, and it may be something we have to address with the Legislature."
The gloss, which is unnoticeable to the naked eye, renders photographs useless in identifying plate numbers. The product, offered only on the Internet, is legal here and sells for $29.99 for a can containing enough spray to cover four license plates for life.
As we've seen many times -- like this, this, this and this -- the Chron often fails to get a story's basic facts right. The Photoblocker story is just another example. First of all, the Chronicle might want to learn about the product before parroting PhotoBlocker's marketing claims. Atlanta's NBC affiliate found that those claims might be overblown:
The company that reviews the pictures taken from the cameras says they haven't seen any cases yet where a license plate has been illegible because of glare, possibly because Gwinnett County’s cameras use laser technology and do not employ a flash.
Second, the product is not available only on the Internet. Photoblocker's site reveals that the company sells its products on-line, via mail-order, over the phone, and through a network of dealers. Third, use of this product already appears to be illegal under the Texas Transportation Code, Section 502.409:
§ 502.409. WRONG, FICTITIOUS, ALTERED, OR OBSCURED LICENSE PLATE. (a) A person commits an offense if the person attaches to or displays on a motor vehicle a number plate or registration insignia that:
(7) has a coating, covering, or protective material that: (A) distorts angular visibility or detectability;
In five minutes, this unpaid blogger turned up the facts. Why can't a multi-million-dollar enterprise like the Chronicle, with its professional journalists and editorial hierarchy, do the same thing?

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