- The Washington Times - Friday, February 1, 2002

A court decision in Colorado could eventually be the linchpin to deliverance from red-light cameras and automated speed enforcement everywhere including here in the District of Columbia. On Jan. 30, the city government of Denver suspended the use of photo radar after County Judge Mary Celeste ruled that their use violates local and city laws. While the case involved just four specific tickets issued by the ticket camera system, it could have statewide and eventually national implications.
This is because of the principle at issue specifically, the empowerment by the government of a private contractor to perform law-enforcement functions. Such a transfer of power amounts to an abdication of basic responsibility by the government. Private companies are not accountable to the people, as elected officials are. They're also in the business of making money. Judge Celeste ruled that Denver's automated ticket mills which are operated by the same company as in the District are unlawful and inappropriate. Local officials there have suspended the use of cameras "effective immediately" until the issue is resolved.
We can only hope that the decision in Denver prompts a similar pause to reconsider the use of cameras here in the nation's capital. Washington ought to be a beacon of freedom, not a symbol of naked greed and Big Brotherism run amok. If catching red-light-runners and speeders at any price is the standard, then by all means, let's keep the cameras. They're certainly "effective," even if they do violate basic due process, privacy rights, and enrich private businesses to say nothing of making it highly profitable for governments to "enforce the law." But by the same token, why not empower private firms to "monitor" tax-law compliance and levy fines upon "tax cheats"? It could probably be done very efficiently. Or how about empowering the police to conduct random stop-and-frisks? We'd certainly catch more crooks maybe put a sizable dent in the drug problem, too. And the 4th Amendment? Who needs it … it just gets in the way of "catching crooks."
Clearly, though, a line needs to be drawn and a balance struck between enforcing reasonable laws in a reasonable manner and enforcing arbitrary laws in any manner whatever. The use of camera surveillance, and for-profit enforcement of traffic laws, crosses that line and needs to be abandoned while we've still got our wits about us.



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