- The Washington Times - Monday, October 16, 2000

The ever-proliferating kudzu of what critics rightly call "the surveillance society" threatens to entangle still more local drivers these days. Photo enforcement of red-light running has expanded, oh-so-quietly, to speed enforcement on stretches of road controlled by the National Park Service (NPS). What began as an "experimental" use of the unblinking eye near National Airport is about to be expanded across the board to all parkways under control of the NPS. That includes the George Washington Memorial Parkway where the radar-trap cameras were first "tested" as well Rock Creek Parkway, the Potomac Parkway, Suitland Parkway, the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and the Clara Barton Parkway. Once the cameras are up and running, motorists who dare to exceed the often arbitrarily low posted speed limits will simply get their piece of "payin' paper" in the mail, automatically. If unchallenged, the cameras will surely spread to the Beltway and other area roads. Five years from now, they could be ubiquitous.
We live in an age of fast-food and 24-7 commerce, so why not make traffic enforcement more expeditious, too, proponents argue? "Speeding" is every bit as common as red-light running. Police resources are far too valuable to be squandered by having real, live officers actually issue tickets. Why, the cameras are so much easier, so much cheaper … and after all, it's the law, right?
The answer is that yes, it is the law. Defending "speeders," however, is not the the issue. It's a straw man set up to distract us from the far more important question of whether we want to accept, literally, constant monitoring by officialdom to place ourselves, willingly, under the constant scrutiny of government. If enforcing the law is the pretext, and privacy no longer relevant, then on what principle will we object when the technology becomes available to more precise monitoring of our habits, behind the wheel and elsewhere? With sensors and computers, government can (indeed, already does, in some cases) keep track of how much you drive, where you drive and how fast you drive. "Smart tags" and other automated toll collection devices can be readily adapted to purposes far expanded from their original function.
A "public comment" period is now in effect regarding the use of photo radar speed-enforcement on the parkways in our area. This is required before the system can be fully implemented. Call 703-289-2500 to express your opinion; or write to Audrey Calhoun, superintendent of George Washington Memorial Parkway, McLean, Va. 22101. The closing date for public comment is Oct. 31. That the date coincides with Halloween is strangely appropriate. This is pretty scary stuff and unlike ghosts and goblins, all too real.

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