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Due Process

2002-03-25 17:15:20+00 by Dan Lyke 9 comments

Charles passed along this note in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about traffic cameras, fairly unremarkable, even agreeable, except for Marietta city official Warren Hutmacher saying "Our position is, we have an absolute right to catch you, and you have no right of privacy". This is especially scary in an area where the outgoing sherriff is the primary suspect in the murder of the sherriff-elect (Just to be clear, the former is in Cobb County, the latter DeKalb County). Why is it that politicians are so sure that their systems are going to be used only for good, despite overwhelming historical evidence to the contrary?

[ related topics: Photography Privacy Law Civil Liberties ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment made: 2002-03-25 17:30:56+00 by: Pete

Legally, in public you don't have any right to privacy (actually, there's no direct Constitutional support for any right to privacy, but that's another issue), but you do have a right to face your accuser in court. Who is that in these cases?

#Comment made: 2002-03-25 17:48:39+00 by: Dan Lyke

I'm not as up-in-arms about this as Charles[Wiki] is, I'm generally a fan of traffic cameras. The thing that concerns me is when Mr. Hutmacher continues:

"The only people who'll wind up in the database are those who run red lights. It's not our intent to create divorces or see what you're doing while driving."

"You won't end up in our database unless you're guilty" screams ignorance of how systems work.

#Comment made: 2002-03-25 20:49:34+00 by: Larry Burton

Actually, I've never had any expectation of privacy while out in public. I think the "cams" are kind of neat. I can use the information to make travel decision.

#Comment made: 2002-03-25 21:03:44+00 by: Dan Lyke

Larry, what makes these cameras different is that they're specifically targeted to get images of the occupants of the vehicle. In the case of the red-light cameras, the theory is that they'll only be used to verify the red-light runner, but as we've seen with driver's license records, unless there are physical and legal interlocks to prevent it, all it takes is one cop who says "wow, she was cute..." to abuse the system.

So to feel comfortable with this, I want to see hard time, measured in years, for anyone who, say, uses these cameras in conjunction with the motor vehicle registration database to stalk someone. My fear is that the rights aren't being applied both ways.

#Comment made: 2002-03-25 21:31:51+00 by: Shawn

I can use the information to make travel decision.

Can you? I've been noticing recently that we have no less than 12 cameras at each intersection now [up here in the Seattle area]. Yet I can find no publicly available interface for viewing their feed. I'd love to use them to see what traffic and weather are doing around the [Puget] Sound, but they're not available to me. (Highway cameras - which don't have a resolution capable of seeing license plates or faces (or if they do, it isn't used very often) - are available, but not the ones at intersections.)

#Comment made: 2002-03-25 21:36:18+00 by: Larry Burton

I can understand this being a miappropriation of tax dollars to do such a thing, and in this I fully agree with your sentiment, but from strictly a privacy standpoint there is little or no difference between these cameras being used as you describe and an indivdiual taking the same type of pictures and placing them in a personal file. In public there is no privacy so expect publicity.

My objection in the past to issuing tickets based on these cameras was that they were only grabbing license numbers. By also grabbing a photo of the face the courts can now compare the facial photo to DMV photos and along with the photo of the tag and the photo showing the car running the traffic light to have irrefutable proof that correct person is being ticketed.

#Comment made: 2002-03-25 21:38:17+00 by: Larry Burton

Shawn, the Georgia cams can be found at http://www1.georgianavigator.com/traffic/ The interface isn't the friendliest in the world but it's better than a lot I've seen.

#Comment made: 2002-03-25 23:01:58+00 by: Shawn

Larry, that's pretty similar to what we have around here (although not as many) for monitoring freeway traffic. The local news also uses them during their weather/traffic broadcasts.

But I'm talking about the within-town intersection cameras. We have intersections with two cameras for each direction, mounted on the crossbar that holds the lights - and then another one about 100 yards down each road, pointed at the intersection.

I'm not really bothered (more in the category of mildly annoyed) by these cameras. I just wanted to point out that the ones in question are not generally/publicly available, as you seemed to indicate. This appears to also be the case for Georgia, as the page you provided only gives access to highway cameras.

#Comment made: 2002-03-26 04:15:18+00 by: OnceShy [edit history]

A couple of things bother me about the cameras in general.

  1. The inevitable day in court when the DA says, "And in this picture we see the defendant's car passing through this nearby intersection at the approximate time the crime was committed." Don't tell me there aren't people sitting in prison right now because they just happened to be "in the neighborhood."
  2. The fact that I could, in theory, jump onto the web site and track my wife's shopping patterns ... or whatever else she may be doing. Not only are certain cameras online, a higher number of them can be seen on cable, including the full expanse of Hwy 41 from Acworth through Marietta. One particularly entertaining shot provides an excellent view of the parking lot of an adult entertainment establishment. Care to guess how many times that shot's shown up in divorce court?

Those cameras have been in place for about three years, though. The new cameras can, supposedly, see inside well enough to take pictures clear enough to identify the occupants of the vehicle. To that, I say,

  1. bullshit. (Can I say that here?) With vehicle cabins at all various heights and size, there's no way a fixed point camera will see inside all of them. Or even half.
  2. If the car is actually speeding through the intersection, what are the odds on getting a clear photograph capable of supporting the identity of the driver beyond a reasonable doubt?
  3. The particular intersection where the first such camera is installed includes a major east/west artery. You drive this road, you wear shades and keep your visor down. Can you identify me by my chin?

The most disturbing, however, is the disclaimer of privacy. As long as I'm in my vehicle, which is my personal property, what I do there is my business so long as it does not bring harm to others. If we follow goofball Hutmatcher's line of thought, the only place we have privacy is ... uhm ... well ... nowhere. Using such reasoning, any space to which some other individual might gain physical and/or remote access under any means possible would be considered public.

Next stop: cameras in your house to make sure you're not beating your kids.

No, thank you.