July 8, 2006

Time for Big Brother to go

I don't often get an opportunity to agree 100% with a Dispatch/Argues editorial, but they hit the nail squarely on the head with their recent piece supporting the legal challenge to traffic surveilance cameras and the "law enforcement for private profit" angle it entails.

And they don't pull any punches, as well they shouldn't.

The ACLU has taken up the cause of a man who says he was wrongly accused by a photograph of breaking a traffic law in Davenport.

Good. The American Civil Liberties Union understands what Davenport officials don't: Government-operated citizen surveillance is a blatant violation of a host of rights including the right of the accused to confront their accuser, the right to effectively defend oneself, the judicial cornerstone of "innocent until proven guilty" and the blatant invasion of privacy such government spying represents.

And worse, all that is happening without any serious data to show that such cameras do anything to make driving safer. For example, opponents of red-light camera enforcement say that while there are fewer broadside accidents thanks to the cameras, there is a marked increase in rear-end collisions as divers slam on the brakes at intersections. A report commissioned by U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey also said that yellow lights at intersections where cameras are in place are often shorter, making running red lights more frequent and putting more money in municipal pockets, but increasing rear-end collisions at those intersections.

Those complaints and others have prompted challenges to camera enforcement around the nation. According to the USA Today, California attorney Arthur Tait has represented more than 300 clients who are challenging red-light cameras. Contrary to popular belief, he said, the cameras are not infallible. But the statute treats them that way. So most drivers who get "caught" pay for it, even if they did nothing wrong. "In other criminal cases, you have a right to confront your accuser," he told USA Today. "But with this technology, your accuser is a camera." You can, of course, fight it. But, well, good luck.

Read the rest here.


At 7/08/2006 1:26 PM, Blogger Scott said...

Good to see the ACLU getting some good press. Seems the "left wing media," likes to beat up on them every chance they get.

At 7/08/2006 6:30 PM, Blogger UMRBlog said...

The use of this technology IN CONSTRUCTION ZONES is really on the cutting edge right now. Those cameras capture plates, in some cases VIN's, face photos and facial recognition characteristics which can be cross checked by computer.

This is not your father's tollway violator camera.

The use of security video where no human being survives the C-Store Robbery/Murder has sent a lot of people up. t'will be interesting to see if "confrontation clause" defenses hold up in the non-construction context.

At 7/08/2006 7:26 PM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

Your construction zone example is interesting. That's certainly a serious offense (assuming that there's any workers on site at the time. I often wonder if they issue the new increased penalty tickets if someone speeds in what is techincally a construction zone even though there is no construction workers present.)

At any rate, I still believe that there should be an officer present to "witness" the violation.

If cameras are used, there should be an officer further down the road to then pull over the vehicle.

It all boils down to whether you consider these spy cameras a remote extension of an officer's eyes, or a stand alone "robot" which can't testify and can't be questioned.

Frankly, I think the fact that for-profit companies are giving these systems away to munipalities in return for cutting the town in on the profits alone is reason they should be eliminated.

That fact in and of itself is a big problem as it inevitably will lead to excessive and erroneous ticketing and needs to be re-examined as to if it's really where we want law enforcement to go.

As usual, it will all come down to what jurisdiction and what court ultimate rules on the matter. And with the conservatives having mounted a huge effort to pack the courts at every level, largely un-noticed by the public, the chances of a conservative court ruling on the matter are good. And conservative courts have a long track record of allowing ever increasing law enforcement intrusion into people's privacy.

At 7/09/2006 1:45 PM, Blogger The Peter Files Blog of Comedy said...

I understand the 1984-ish feel to traffic cams. On the other hand, we have to look at what purpose they are being put to. Those who run red lights.

Have you ever been hit by a car that sped through an intersection? I have. I was on my bike, 12, and one of my shoes flew 35 to 40 feet.

It was partially my fault. I looked then proceeded out from the middle of the block seeing that there was no traffic coming towards me on the main street. I did not figure on a turning car blowing the light at 40+ and turning onto the main street.

Fortunately, she tried to stop and so I am here today to type these words. But I still have an indentation in my left leg to remember that incident by.

Now even with today's higher traffic rates, that intersection would not qualify for a traffic cam unless they become much, much cheaper. But I have to say that my own experiences make me feel that traffic cam implementation is entirely justified by the behavior of many drivers in the region who are not thinking about anyone but themselves as they turn neighborhood streets into their own personal highways.

In Illinois for example, where Cecil is most often seen, and his flunky Ed has been known to drive around on fact finding missions, as a matter of law, the pedestrian has the absolute right of way. Even if they are in the wrong place, at the wrong time, when the signal is the wrong color. Doing 45 in a 30 and blowing a red light endagers those on their feet and on bikes who have every right to be where they are instead of polluting by hitting the throttle down hard and wasting fuel economy.

Oh, public transit users wait for buses near those intersections where accidents can happen to.

This is a long-winded way of saying that if I am not paying attention it is possible that I might get nailed by one of these cameras for a ticket that I might have avoided if I had been paying more attention to the road and my speed.

But isn't that the point? Don't we want drivers on our city streets to pay more attention as they drive? Don't we want that road crew person to get back to his or her family. That kid to get home with his bake rather than to the morgue?

I think that this is more than just an issue of convenience, or of proper taxing. This is really and truly an issue of public safety. Just as installing lights and stop signs are in the first place.

Perhaps this is apocryphal, Cecil, perhaps your staff can check this, but I have heard that in Chicago, that to get a stop sign installed on a street corner now usually requires a traffic fatality at that corner. If true that is a sobering thought.

Not my usual focus,

Editor and Spell Wrecker, The Peter Files Blog of Comedy, Satire and Commentary

A Straight Dope Reader Since About 1973 (Age 12)

At 7/11/2006 12:25 AM, Blogger tiz said...

The D/A article mentions this phenomenon: Red-light cameras in Portland, OR resulted in a 140% increase in rear-end collisions at the intersections where the cameras were. While I can't quickly find the data for the cameras over in Davenport, I've lost count of how many times some jackass slammed on his brakes in front of me at a yellow light - at the intersection of Kimberly and Elmore in particular.

One thing I'd like to see is more consistent timing in yellow lights. There is a marked difference between Illinois and Iowa lights and a slight difference even between lights within the some of the cities. Traffic (and maybe tax) laws seem to be the only laws that otherwise normal, law-abiding people break. To me it would make more sense looking into why people usually speed in a certain place or run a certain light and let engineers fix the problem than to resort to big-brother tatics like cameras.

There is a speed camera just past Lujack's on Harrison Street. I wonder how many tickets have gone to the different dealer plates. I know I tried my best to fly by the damn thing when test-driving cars this Spring. :)

At 7/11/2006 1:24 AM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

Tiz, now that's funny!

It opens up a brand new way to really mess with someone you don't like. Figure a way to borrow their car and take a spin around Davenport!

At 7/11/2006 1:28 AM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

Tiz, now that's funny!

It opens up a brand new way to really mess with someone you don't like. Figure a way to borrow their car and take a spin around Davenport!

And on a related note, I recall that people are already selling license plate covers which will supposedly make it impossible for these cameras to capture the image of the plate while still allowing enough visibility to be legal.

I imagine it works along the lines of the directional lens on some traffic signals where they don't want the wrong lane of traffic to see the light.

If a plate cover has lines eteched in a certain way, it would be visible from straight horizontal but not from any angle above horizontal, thus blurring the plate to any camera.

I think I should look into the wholesale price on those. ha!

(Or better yet, just buy a bunch of cheap license covers and just SAY it blocks cameras and sell them online. I'm sure someone will (or is)


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