Saturday, January 08, 2005

Big Brother is watching

Bunnie Diehl points out a NYTimes article on traffic cameras. She argues:

Government control over every aspect of our lives is problematic enough. Even if these insidious traffic cameras did NOT lead to greater fatalities and maiming, they are still a frightening dystopic innovation. They violate due process, assuming guilt before innocence.

Of course, the statistics and studies vary, but I'm more interested in discussing the concept than the results.

If we give government the right to make laws, we must also ensure it can enforce them. Technology will make virtual law enforcement increasingly capable, though I doubt that our foreseeable future will include monitoring to the extent of Brave New World.

To control the role of government, would it not be better to adjust the laws than to put too many controls on their enforcement?

We must take measures to protect privacy rights, but in a case such as traffic cameras, I don't see any privacy violations.

To enforce traffic laws, I would definitely oppose a measure that would do something such as require every car to have a recording device to monitor and report all traffic violations. However, I'm not sure that I see a problem with mounting a camera in an intersection for the express purpose of catching and prosecuting people who run the light, nor with speed detection devices on interstates to net speeders.

If the cameras are making the intersections more dangerous we should definitely address the issue, but that does not necessarily mean getting rid of the cameras. You could also adjust the light's cycle, making the yellow longer, or putting a delay between the red-green change.

As for assuming guilt before innocence, the camera doesn't assume guilt; given an accurate system, it proves guilt. The problem is that a license plate photo proves the guilt of the car, not of the individual. The photo of the driver would prove the guilt of the driver, and I don't see that as an unreasonable invasion of privacy.

The system may need some tweaking to make it effective and safe, but I don't think the idea of cameras enforcing traffic laws is inherently flawed.