- The Washington Times - Friday, May 24, 2002

The use of traffic cameras as revenue collectors oops, traffic-safety enforcement tools was dealt a small but potentially significant setback on May 21, when Colorado District Judge Joseph Meyer upheld the previous ruling of a lower-court judge that Denver's use of photo-radar to snare motorists was illegal.
In January, Judge Mary Celeste ruled that Denver's use of the cameras to issue fines was illegal because the tickets were not issued by police but rather by a private contractor effectively turning over a law-enforcement function to an entity with no business being involved in such a thing. Judge Celeste also noted the clear conflict of interest in having a for-profit private contractor collecting fines on behalf of the state and receiving a "cut" of each fine levied in return for the "service" it provided.
This is how photo-radar has been set up in other areas of the country, including San Diego and, of course, here in Washington. In each case, a private contractor originally Lockheed Martin IMS, which developed the technology presented the system to local governments with a clear emphasis on the revenue-generating possibilities of automated ticketing. Cash-strapped officials did not need much convincing to see the potential for all that easy money even if it meant the diminishment of respect for legitimate civil authority. Then there are the civil liberties issues raised by the growing presence of cameras to observe and record the comings and goings of ordinary citizens the moment they venture into public spaces. Is this America or an electronic-age gulag?
Consider the pernicious precedent it sets up. If Americans can be made to accept the idea of mass surveillance for "safety's" sake, surely it's not that much of a leap to embrace similarly invasive measures to combat everything from "tax cheating" to illicit drug use, to whatever else either the government or the relentless nags and busybodies who appeal to it decide they have some need to "monitor."
This is not a paranoiac rant. Washington capital of the ostensibly free world has already begun setting up a city-wide surveillance net that will allow almost every public area to be constantly monitored by cameras. Face-recognition technology can and very likely will be incorporated to keep track of the movements and activities of individual people in real time and all the time. Some government official will know where you went, whom you spoke with, every little detail. So much for privacy.
And it all had its genesis in the adoption of cameras as traffic-safety enforcement tools.


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