Behind traffic cameras lurk less noble motives

The city has decorated its asphalt arteries with yet another four speed cameras, ostensibly to save more lives and blah, blah, blah.

The morally superior justification to save lives is intended to mute the masses. Saving a life is an inherently good motivation that has no legislative end. It is the creeping act of good that intrudes on the privacy and freedom of the citizenry.

The minions of Mayor Anthony A. Williams inevitably deny the charge that theirs is mostly a coffer-filling endeavor. Yet the mayor’s letter to Linda W. Cropp last month seemingly confirms the revenue-generating aspirations of the practice. The mayor made no reference to saving lives in the letter.

His appeal to the D.C. Council chairman was framed against the needs of the bottom line — “to ensure the continued processing of District tickets and the collection of District revenues.”

Of course, the 13 members of the D.C. Council — many of whom pretended to show a populist’s streak in the ballpark squabble — approved the contract. It is just one more measure that undermines the quality of life of the “little man” in the city. It is just one more bureaucratic hurdle to clear.

If the ubiquitous speed camera is mostly about money — and it is — it is money that goes down a sinkhole. We have a deplorable public school system to prove it.

It is bad enough that the return on the city’s sizable tax dollar is woefully lacking. It segues to insulting as the city becomes even more creative with its dollar-taking pursuits, planting speed cameras with the conviction of a totalitarian state.

We are moving steadily to being a city that monitors and photographs every move of the populace, whether a camera is stationed in front of an ATM, inside a neighborhood convenience store, atop the federal buildings downtown or along one of the heavily used thoroughfares.

It is a creepy practice that is forever dispensed in the context of a larger good, with some reasons more valid than others. The need to be vigilant in the age of terrorism is one thing. Photographing the license plate of a poor sucker who tried to beat a yellow light in stop-and-go traffic is another.

A camera as an altruistic instrument of the do-good, all-knowing city officials is the measure determined to keep on giving. If a speed camera placed at one busy intersection is a good thing, then a speed camera placed at every busy intersection in the city is even better.

After that, the city can move its automated eyes to residential areas and then, finally, into the homes of residents. Surely, if the city could monitor the actions of its citizenry 24/7, just think of all the lives that could be saved. Just think of all the crimes that could be stopped in progress. Just think how much safer we could be in an Orwellian world.

Big Brother as Great Protector is hardly in the national spirit.

It is a flawed philosophy that comes with very real costs, namely an erosion of privacy that Americans once so desperately coveted.

We are relinquishing our identities to the great databases in the sky and to politicians who know what is best for us. In the city of the jersey barrier, cordoned-off streets and law-enforcement officers who eye the contents of your vehicle, our politicians believe that the deployment of more cameras is a nifty idea.

We are, in effect, guilty until proven innocent by the automated eyes in our midst. We are, after all, human, susceptible to bad decisions.

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