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Q: Stoplight Cameras and Privacy ( Answered,   4 Comments )
Subject: Stoplight Cameras and Privacy
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: elmogg-ga
List Price: $20.00
Posted: 06 Oct 2005 22:23 PDT
Expires: 05 Nov 2005 21:23 PST
Question ID: 577413
What are the privacy implications of stoplight cameras where a ticket
is generate for running a red light?
Subject: Re: Stoplight Cameras and Privacy
Answered By: pafalafa-ga on 07 Oct 2005 11:57 PDT

Thanks for posting such an interesting question of public policy.

The privacy issues and implications of red light cameras were
well-explored by a Congressional committee looking into the issues
created by the use of the cameras.

Most of those opposed to the use of cameras on privacy grounds cited
the lack of due process and the the "big brother" type intrusion of
government as their principle concerns.

You can see the main page of the hearing here:


The Subcommittee on Highways and Transit 
Hearing on 

Red Light Cameras

The subject of this hearing is to examine the use of automated
enforcement devices at intersections. Red light cameras have been the
topic of much scrutiny on several fronts: safety, revenue and legal
(including privacy) issues. This oversight hearing is intended to
cover all of these topics while taking a comprehensive look at the
application of red light cameras.


I have included below excerpts from the hearings that discuss the
relevant issues regarding privacy:

July 31, 2001
Testimony of House Majority Leader Dick Armey

...Technology can be a tool of freedom.  Communication advances like
the Internet, for instance, have broken down barriers and spread the
message of democracy around the globe.  Unfortunately, technology can
sometimes serve the opposite effect.  New technologies can actually
undermine our freedoms and create problems far greater than those they
are meant to solve.

...Our judicial system rests on the principle that one is to be
presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. The Bill of
Rights adds the guarantee that one has the right to face one?s accuser
in court as well as the right to avoid self-incrimination.

...Red light cameras violate these judicial principles. Consider how
some jurisdictions treat camera violations.  California matches up
photos from DMV records to the photograph on the ticket.  In theory,
if the photos are similar, you?re guilty.  In practice, San Diego?s
Court Clerk testified that many drivers received tickets even though
they obviously weren?t the one driving.  The ticket recipient must
either admit guilt or become an informant against whoever was driving
the car.

...Other jurisdictions don?t even bother attempting to identify the
actual driver.  Instead, they automatically presume the owner of the
car is guilty.

...Some jurisdictions even treat these tickets as ?civil infractions?
like parking tickets, further eliminating any possibility of a fair
judicial recourse when one is wrongly accused.

...These problems can have serious consequences.  In states that
assign points to these traffic infractions, an individual can lose his
license for offenses he never committed.  In addition, cities rely on
the postal service to serve notice to alleged violators.  If their
ticket happens to get lost in the mail, they could be found in
contempt of court for ignoring a ticket they never received, and face
an arrest warrant as a result.  These difficulties only arise when the
cornerstones of our judicial system are ignored.

...Red light camera proponents will often respond by saying that this
is a small price to pay.  I disagree.  I say that our technology
should adapt to our Constitution and laws, not the other way around.

...The substantial amount of money involved in red light camera
programs has created a conflict of interest that compromises
professions whose purpose is to ensure our safety.

...Police officers belong on the streets and in the community, not in
remote control booths.  The community is best served when an officer
pulls over a motorist at the scene of the crime.  Roadside instruction
is far more effective deterrent than a bill that appears in the mail
weeks after an infraction.

...We all lose when officers of the law are reduced to rubber stamps
for the tickets handed to them by a private corporation.  Our system
of justice is undermined when they are forced to testify in court
about acts they never witnessed and about machines they do not

Testimony of Congressman Bob Barr 

...concerns that present squarely one of the seminal constitutional
questions of this new century: shall we allow the promise of modern
technology to trump the Bill of Rights and to erode whatever privacy
is left to our citizens? our quest to put new technologies to use, we are beginning to
seriously ignore basic, fundamental notions of privacy that underlie
our Bill of Rights and the freedoms they guarantee.

...government based on individual rights and freedoms...All of these
are based on a fundamental right to personal privacy; to be left alone
by government.  These freedoms were designed to be overridden or
?trumped? only for good, and specific reasons, and always respectful
of explicit limitations.  The new technology eviscerates those

...At no point in the past two centuries has Americans? right to
privacy has been more threatened.

...One of the most egregious and telling examples of this growing
problem, and the reason why we are here today, is the red-light
surveillance cameras sprouting up across the American landscape.  At
traffic intersections in cities large and small, from Washington, D.C.
to Marietta, Georgia in my own district, Americans are being watched,
their movements recorded, their persons and surroundings photographed,
and their actions documented by their government; even as they are
often unaware they are being monitored by their government and unable
to do anything about it even if they are.

...In almost every case, the purported goal of these probing eyes is
to increase public safety and deter crime.  While it is very
questionable to what level crime deterrence has been achieved, at what
price do we seek to ?make the trains run on time??  A much more
important question remains: Where will the line be drawn? Can it be
drawn?  Has government gained so much power to snoop, that we have
already lost the ability to fight it?

...Aren?t machines wonderfully efficient?  These tickets would result
in the collection of more than $160 million from the pockets of
citizens; $44 million of which would be given to the private
corporation that installed the cameras.  This sounds like a high-tech
version of the small-town speed trap outlawed as unconstitutional
decades ago.


Attorney at Law

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary
safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

                          ?? Benjamin Franklin


...Red light surveillance cameras combine the worst traits of
government arrogance and corporate greed, where the grab-happy hand of
bureaucracy is strengthened by the insatiable appetite for money.

...Turning to another jurisdiction, the staggering number of dollars
generated by the New York City camera program reveals that income, not
safety, is the goal of red light camera programs.

...The fundamental flaw, and the fatal flaw, in the North Carolina
system is the presumption that the owner of a motor vehicle is guilty
if his or her car is photographed by a red light camera.  Thereafter,
a financial penalty is imposed, based upon an absolute presumption of
guilt, without any judicial review.

...This system strikes at the heart of 800 years of Anglo-American
jurisprudence that honors the sacred principles of due process of law.
 A system that presumes guilt ? even on a $50 dollar traffic ticket ?
does not comport with the Due Process Clause under federal law.

...A timeless, eloquent and oft-quoted description of the law of the
land was crafted by Senator Daniel Webster in his great Supreme Court
argument in the Dartmouth College case. Webster told the justices that
the law of the land is ?the law which hears before it condemns; which
proceeds upon inquiry, and renders judgment only after trial.? 
Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 4 Wheat. 518, 581, 17 U.S.
518, 4 L. Ed. 629 (1819).

...In sharp contrast to these principles, red light camera programs
condemn vehicle owners behind closed doors and then deny them a trial.
 The presumption of guilt and a fine without a trial are frightening
throwbacks to the days of the divine right of kings.  The
techno-tyranny of red light cameras invites this very type of erosion
of individual liberties.



I trust this information fully answers your question.

However, please don't rate this answer until you have everything you
need.  If there's anything more I can do for you, just post a Request
for Clarification, and I'm happy to assist you further.


search strategy -- Google search on: [ hearing "red light cameras" ]
Subject: Re: Stoplight Cameras and Privacy
From: mikewa-ga on 07 Oct 2005 05:05 PDT
Since it will only activate if you run the light, then it becomes your
decision on whether you want to remain unphotographed.
Subject: Re: Stoplight Cameras and Privacy
From: omnivorous-ga on 07 Oct 2005 05:12 PDT
Elmogg --

Are you concerned about privacy issues overall?  Or about how local
laws view the issue?  In the U.S., use of traffic cameras for law
enforcement is a state issue and some states don't allow their use.

Best regards,

Subject: Re: Stoplight Cameras and Privacy
From: myoarin-ga on 07 Oct 2005 05:55 PDT
If the stoplight had a video camera that was triggered to just make
snapshots of cars running the red light, that would be no problem, but
then if the police decided that they want to let it run continuously
or to snap each car the past, that would be invasion of privacy,
especially since the license plate would allow very easy  - perhaps
automatic -  identification.
The people/organizations worried about this in relation to video
cameras in stations and other public places (London bombings) have
some arguments but don't have much success at infecting the general
populace with their fears.  Most of them have the fairly
well-supported impression that the cameras increase safety and reduce
Subject: Re: Stoplight Cameras and Privacy
From: tempworker-ga on 07 Oct 2005 11:09 PDT
I'm not a lawyer, but I think privacy laws generally revolve around
the notion of the amount of privacy expected in a certain situation.

For example, in your own home, or in a public restroom, you naturally
have a high, almost absolute, expectation of privacy. Outside, in
public areas, you should reasonably have no expectations of privacy-
everything you do and say is readily visible and audible to

Although certain jurisdictions have laws against stoplight cameras, I
know of no general, blanket rule which would prohibit them based on
privacy issues.

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