- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 30, 2001

The new head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) got off to a bad start this week by endorsing the use of cameras and automated ticket machines to deal with red light runners and speeders.
NHTSA Administrator Jeffrey W. Runge stated that he does not object to the use of this invasive surveillance technology to nab traffic violators notwithstanding the civil liberties issues that are at stake, or the nature of the highly dubious partnership between local governments and the private contractor, Lockheed Martin IMS, which both administers and profits from the ticket-generating equipment.
Mr. Runge told reporters that the cameras do not, in his opinion, "infringe one one's personal freedom to be caught breaking the law." Of course, using this same logic, police should be able to conduct random searches of homes and persons. After all, someone might be breaking the law. The issue has never been catching law-breakers, or the worthiness of attempts to deal with the problem of scofflaws, traffic or otherwise. What's at the core of this debate is the means by which we pursue those who break the law. Mr. Runge has apparently bought into the notion that any means are appropriate even if it constitutes the effective suspension of due process including a for-profit enforcement mechanism that even proponents concede will net substantial sums for both the government and the private company, Lockheed Martin IMS.
Rep. Dick Armey, Texas Republican, has been a bitter opponent of camera technology since the whole mess began. After learning of Mr. Runge's position and comments, Mr. Armey's office suggested the new NHTSA administrator "look more closely at the facts." Armey spokesman Richard Diamond said that "As far as privacy and constitutional rights are concerned, you can't have the right to face your accuser in court, and you give up your right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty." Tickets and accompanying fines are simply mailed out with a demand for payment; there is no day in court, no appeal.
"Safety" is not worth much in a society that isn't free, or which has abandoned hard-fought protections against an overweening government. Mr. Runge should take the time to reconsider his position on the use of surveillance technology as a law-enforcement tool and on the idea of allowing a private company to enrich itself by enforcing laws.


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