Chicken-Fried News: The Great Gatso

Chicken-Fried News has decidedly dystopian reading habits. In late summer, the CFN news team started a book club in which we read apocalyptic hellscape literature like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Tom Brady’s The TB12 Method: How to Achieve a Lifetime of Sustained Peak Performance. But the book that gave staffers nightmares was Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, which imagined, among other things, a privatized America where corporations dominate law enforcement.

As with most great dystopian visions, the power of the nightmare lies in its connections to our present, and in Oklahoma, your Big Brother future is now. According to The Oklahoman, a company called Gatso USA contracts with the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council [DAC] to use license plate scanners to catch uninsured drivers.

Gatso USA is a division of Sweden-based Sensys Gatso, which sounds like the name of an arms dealer from Tatooine. When Gatso catches someone driving without insurance, they send the motorist a letter notifying them of the legal requirement to properly insure their vehicles and charge them a $184 fee. Gatso gets $80, the DAC gets $84 and the rest goes to administrative costs and a state pension fund for law enforcement, which is supposed to make it feel warm and fuzzy, like a puppy hiding from the mechanized security forces patrolling a blighted future world.

CFN thought the letter sounded kind of like a traffic ticket. Sure, it’s issued by a company hailing from the land of difficult-to-assemble furniture instead of Oklahoma law enforcement, but it’s still a ticket or a citation, right?

“It’s not a ticket or a citation,” said DAC executive coordinator Trent Baggett in an interview with The Oklahoman, because of course he said that. “It’s a letter stating, ‘Our records show you do not have insurance.’” And charging you $184.

Gatso is getting attention these days via class-action lawsuits, which are pending against them in Iowa, Florida, Georgia and Alabama, where good ol’ boys worry this high-tech Boss Hogg will catch the General Lee before it can get over the creek bed.

CFN strongly believes it is important for all motorists to be insured – it’s a public safety issue. But the $2 million Gatso deal feels like a near-future cyber-boondoggle. Legislators should provide more funding to the Department of Public Safety to police insurance shirkers so we’re not subject to the electronic eyes of our Swedish overlords.

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