- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 6, 2001

Red-light cameras are finally getting their day in court. In San Diego, Superior Court Judge Ronald Styn threw out some 292 tickets issued by the camera equipment because the involvement of the private contractor operating the system violates state law. A class-action suit had been brought by the motorists issued the tickets, challenging the legality of allowing a private contractor to function, for all practical purposes, as both judge and jury in the enforcement of traffic law.
As followers of this controversy here in the District well know, the other issue which troubled Judge Styn as well is the idea of permitting a private contractor to make money off the scheme. In the District, Lockheed Martin IMS gets about $30 per ticket issued an arrangement that is worth potentially millions annually. Meanwhile, the city more or less abrogates one of its most basic functions enforcing the law. The cops here and in other cities where the use of cameras has become popular apparently have more important things to do.
While the San Diego ruling does not have any immediate impact upon the use of cameras here in Washington or the incestuous, for-profit relationship between a private contractor and the city government, it does bode well as a possible indicator of what could happen as the issue works its way through the court system. It's inevitable that the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately consider the issue. If the Constitution and Bill of Rights serve the justices as any kind of guide (an increasing rarity in these "interpretive" days of ours), the use of surveillance technology will be dealt a quick sentence, with no hope of reprieve. The use of cameras and other forms of surveillance equipment to monitor us the moment we step outside is quite enough to make one nervous.
With luck, however, reason will prevail, and we'll go back to the admittedly less effective but more constitutional method of catching law-breakers with due process administered by the state, not some cash-crazed private goon squad less accountable to the people than the board Lockheed Martin.


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