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Speed on Green - Photo Enforcement Discussion group of various photo enforcement technologies including speed on green and automated toll photo enforcement and its potential impact on our individual civil liberties.

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Old 2008-02-01
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Default ACLU on Photo Enforcement, Red Light Cameras, Speed Cameras, Surveillance Cameras

When it Comes to Photo Enforcement vs Our Civil Liberties, the ACLU is asleep at the Wheel

About five months ago, when Philadelphia began implementing Automated Red Light Cameras in a number of 'high' accident-rate intersections along the Route 1, locally referred to as the Roosevelt Boulevard, I decided to pit the new Cheetah GPSmirror against these newly-installed red light camera systems.

The GPSmirror performed as expected, correctly identifying each of the intersections that were actively being monitored by these red light cameras and in a fashion which enabled my safe passage.

After several hours of repeated passes from a variety of different approaches, and having been satisfied by the protection the GPSmirror provided me, to these now especially dangerous intersections (the ones being actively monitored by the ATS red light camera systems and the Philadelphia Parking Authority) I decided to shift my focus to the red light cameras themselves, to learn more about the manufacturer and operator of them.

Observing these red light cameras in operation got me naturally thinking about the unintended consequences of the operation of these and related speed camera systems by for-profit multi-national corporations in the name of 'our safety.'

The more I thought about their use and the process of automated ticket citation and the lowered legal thresholds to which these systems must resort to achieve 'legal' adjudication, I naturally thought about the necessary erosion of our long-established individual Bill of Rights that these systems will/do cause.

My good friend and professional associate Craig Peterson (author of Driver's Guide to Police Radar) spoke with me at length about these systems, the agenda-driven reports detailing the need for these systems, the intimidation of press reporters (himself included) who dare to dig deeper than the broad 'positive' pronouncements from the supporters of photo enforcement, of the supporting "studies"—which often conclude by mandating the need for these and related speed camera and speed on green camera systems—and their high 'community acceptance' by those 'polled.' I wonder what professional for-hire polling firms are employed?

Having been shaken at my foundation, I told Craig that I was going to reach out to an organization that (to be frank) I thought I would never, the American Civil Liberties Union (ALCU).

I thought, who better to assist in preserving and defending our collective individual civil liberties, than the organization that proclaims to do so in their very name?

Being the optimist that I am, I decided to call my local chapter (located in Philadelphia). I had to leave a message detailing the particular concerns that I had about the negative impact these new red light cameras and speed on green cameras have on our collective individual civil liberties as embodied in our Founding Fathers', Bill of Rights, especially those directly related to due process

Unfortunately, when I did eventually receive a returned phone call from the Philadelphia ACLU Chapter, I was told that they did not have the 'resources' to assist me with my general concerns about this issue.

They were kind enough, however, to recommend some other 'resources,' those resources being professional law firms.

OK, I figured, I was the first caller (since the red light cameras just came online) and my general concerns didn't merit the attention of this organization, at this time.

I graciously thanked them for their response and moved on.

What I didn't know at the time was the ACLU did, in fact, expend some resources to the issue of red light cameras. Twice, in fact. Once in July of 2000 and again in April of 2004 (more than three years earlier).

In both instances, the ACLU proclaimed their support for Red Light Cameras and more generally Traffic Surveillance systems for traffic enforcement (ie; ticket/citation issuance).

Unfortunately, for you and me, the ACLU is towing the corporate-line of these for-profit companies.

Their only stated objection in both of their press releases, was their concern for 'mission-creep.' An elegant way of saying they would object to the data-collection [and data-mining] for purposes other than merely issuing the traffic ticket.

While in their very same press releases, the ACLU expressed their beliefs are that Government and privacy industry surveillance techniques created for one purpose are rarely restricted to that purpose.

Isn't there an inherent contradiction in these two positions?

Let me paraphrase for clarity, am I to understand that the ACLU's position to support red light cameras and other automated photo enforcement is predicated on a premise that they don't believe is likely achievable?

In the ACLU's earlier press release, they had included an additional paragraph which was conspicuously absent from their follow-on supporting press release of 2004. That paragraph read:

Traffic safety and information privacy are not mutually incompatible concepts. However, if the red light program is to succeed*, the American public must be assured that the information collected is used only for the authorized purpose indicated and is not sold, shared or otherwise abused.**

I guess the ACLU is more concerned with your personal/private information getting in the 'wrong' hands, such as a marketing company or appearing on some mailing list, and subjecting to solicitations (from a good civil defense attorney) than with everything else you would lose in the process.

It's interesting to note that in both very terse press releases, there was no mention as to what actually constituted success. I suppose the ACLU abrogated that responsibility, leaving it to the hands of the corporations operating them to ultimately determine what success means. For corporations in business to make a profit, success is generally measured by how profitable they are.

So essentially, the ACLU is endorsing corporations the right to a profit motive, which is fine with me, but wasn't the charter of the ACLU to protect the individual? Since when is a multi-national corporation an individual?

Perhaps the most egregious abrogation of the ACLU, in this instance, is its failure to preserve and defend the protections of American citizens' individual right to due process: the right to face and cross examine his/her accuser, the right not to self-incriminate, the right not to be forced to turn-in your 'neighbor' or family member, to protect your own self from wrongful prosecution.

There are plenty of other civil liberties at stake, and I have already detailed them in my other articles on this subject, so I won't repeat them, here.

Bottom Line: When it comes to automated photo enforcement in the forms of red light cameras, speed on green cameras, photo radar, photo lidar, and other forms of speed cameras, as well as general traffic (video) surveillance, the ACLU is asleep at the wheel.

Perhaps it time for a new driver, the National Motorists Association.

Jim, can you take the wheel for a while? I trust in your driving abilities, even when I am not watching, and I could really use the rest.

Veil Guy

*Success was not defined in the ACLU's press statements, however since these photo enforcement companies are in business to make money, success must ultimately be determined by their annual earnings statements.

** Here's a perfect example of such an abuse of the information collected. Perhaps its situations like this that precipitated the removal of this clause in their later press release.

Note: While I support the precepts of the ACLU, in a post-9/11 world, they appear to be focusing their resources on ensuring our individual privacies. So it's with great irony that the ACLU would actually be tacit supporters of automated photo enforcement and video surveillance which strips us of these sacred rights.

© 2008

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