- The Washington Times - Monday, October 23, 2000

Render the following in B-movie, staccato-style German and see if it reminds you of anything: "Your vehicle was seen traveling on southbound I-95 near I-195 on Wednesday, Sept. 27. Please provide the following information: Where were you going? Who was with you? What was the purpose of your trip?" No, it wasn't an updated version of the Gestapo. It was the text of a Maryland Mass Transit Administration (MTA) letter sent to 48,000 drivers whose cars had been identified, via roadside cameras, as they trundled down I-95 last month.

The drivers in question were not speeding; they had violated no traffic laws. But they were observed, identified and recorded nonetheless for "information purposes" only, of course. The MTA, it seems, is conducting a new kind of traffic survey, making full use of the creepy and intrusive technology now available to bureaucrats whose sense of other people's privacy is not particularly keen. Roadside cameras are all over the place, increasingly recording our every move literally.

Maryland Republican State Sen. Martin G. Madden, who received one of the letters, said, "In my view, this is an unwarranted intrusion of the general public's privacy expectations and adds credence to the fear that Big Brother government is watching us." No question. But does anyone care enough to do anything about it? Because if not challenged, such practices will only become more common and more aggressive.

While the MTA's new survey methods may violate no Maryland laws, as MTA official Ronald L. Freeland took pains to point out, the fact that state bureaucrats are so cavalier in their willingness to exploit Big Brother-type technology ought to raise a few hairs on our necks. It's not a particularly long jump from the use of omnipresent cameras for "information purposes" only to government agents demanding the information your papers, please.

"Who's running the MTA these days? George Orwell?" So asked Dwight Sullivan of the Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). "They may have been well-intentioned, but boy, did they go about it the wrong way," he said. The question is whether there is a "right" way to engage in this kind of activity. If Maryland has the time and manpower to spend time spying on law-abiding Maryland drivers, then it has too much of both.

Will the cameras be taken down? Will government agencies scale back their scrutiny of our lives? There is no justification for employing the cameras. Maryland should take them down pronto.

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