Sex worker. Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons
Sex worker. Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons

Men who cruise streets where prostitutes beckon may soon get letters from the city of Los Angeles in their home mailboxes, under a proposal from the city council.

But privacy advocates blasted the proposal to use automated license plate readers to generate the letters, which would be aimed at shaming “Johns” by alerting their wives, mothers or girlfriends as they open the mail, the Los Angeles Daily News reported Thursday.

The city council voted Wednesday to ask the City Attorney’s office to examine sending so-called “John Letters” to the car owners, the Daily News reported. Council member Nury Martinez, who represents a San Fernando Valley district with a thriving street prostitution problem, introduced the concept.

Martinez has said many of the prostitutes are children, or women being exploited. She proposed using the police department’s automated license plate readers to identify and then send warning letters to owners of cars seen driving in areas known for prostitution.

In a statement issued by here office Wednesday, Martinez said, “If you aren’t soliciting, you have no reason to worry about finding one of these letters in your mailbox. But if you are, these letters will discourage you from returning.

“Soliciting for sex in our neighborhoods is not OK.”

Martinez’s plan drew immediate criticism from the Electronic Freedom Foundation, which along with the ACLU has an ongoing lawsuit against the LAPD and the Los Angeles sheriff. The suit demands the release of a week’s worth of license plate data accumulated through the use of the plate readers, and accuses the agencies of violating the California Public Records Act by withholding the data.

The lawsuit was originally filed in 2013.

Law agencies won a lower court ruling denying access to the records collected on the basis that they were “investigative records.” But in late July, the state Supreme Court decided to examine the lawsuit, the foundation’s attorney, Jennifer Lynch, said.

In a statement posted on the foundation’s website, Lynch pointed out the plate readers not only capture images of the license plates, but they also include the time, date and location where the vehicle was photographed.

Lynch stated the technology could create a detailed database of a driver’s movements which could disclose things like a medical clinic the driver visits, their place of worship, political meetings attended, as well as the locations of friends, family and associates.

An investigative researcher with the foundation, Dave Maass, raised an alarm concerning the Martinez plan, and its use of the computerized plate readers.

“What happens if you have a legitimate reason to be in a neighborhood?” Maass posed to the L.A. Daily News.

The Martinez plan also has its supporters, the Daily News reported. Cindy Sower, a Sun Valley business owner, applauded it.

“Let’s say that letter comes in and your wife, your girlfriend or mother gets it,” Sower told the newspaper. “Maybe it’s a wakeup call.”

Such so-called “John Letters” have been sent to either suspected or known sex buyers in many areas, according to 2012 report by the National Institute of Justice.

The Daily News reported that police in Minneapolis, Des Moines and Oakland have collected license plate numbers and descriptions of known or suspected johns and their vehicles and used that info to have letters sent to the alleged offenders.

—City News Service

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