Thursday, June 3, 2010

Privacy Concerns Shroud Highway Traffic Cam Plan

Governor Henry's plan to use highway traffic "spy" cameras to collect $50 million from uninsured motorists puts Oklahoma squarely in the middle of a worldwide controversy over privacy.

The controversial "automated license plate recognition" (ALPR) system utilizes cameras that scan license plates. Henry's plan is designed to nab insurance scofflaws and generate money for the state.

In other countries, the cameras have been used for far more diverse reasons, most of them generating privacy concerns.

Used To Intercept Protesters
In Great Britain, where the system apparently originated, law enforcement used its ALPR system to intercept protesters on their way to a demonstration. That fact is not lost on Tea Party activists, who fear their movements could be tracked by such a system and they could be targeted. Similiarly, holders of licenses to carry concealed weapons also have expressed concern that they could be targeted in the future.

In other places, including some states, the systems have been used for "pre-emptive" policing that has resulted in civil libertarian protests; they say such policing is a violation of due process and allows police to "arrest" motorists for no reason other than the police subjectively "believe" the vehicle and its occupants should be detained.

Those civil libertarians say the system relies on a benign law enforcement element that doesn't abuse it and doesn't misuse the vehicle and personal information data it collects. Such a reliance, they argue, is historically not warranted. From Great Britain to Canada to the U. S., there are multiple examples of privacy violations.

'Abuses Of Convenience'
In addition to the privacy issue, there is concern the system leads to citizen "abuses of convenience." For example, in some jurisdictions, there is but a single court available for those who want to contest a ticket they receive through the system. A single court, in Oklahoma City, is mentioned as part of the Henry plan (although a final decision apparently has not yet been made). That means that a Panhandle motorist who wants to plead his case might have to appear in Oklahoma City, a site far from convenient for that motorist. There's also mention of a possible "telephonic" system through which a vehicle owner could contest a ticket. Opponents of the system say either alternative is designed to encourage motorists to pay their tickets, thus generating revenue for the state...which they believe is the only reason the system has been embraced by state and local governments. The fine in Oklahoma apparently will be at least $250.

A video made by British Columbia's Integrated Municipal Provincial Auto Crime Team forecast that ALPR will “revolutionize” policing in North America. The video touted ALPR's use at the 2010 Olympics, combatting terrorism and organized crime.

But while ALPR's initial applications in B.C. – stopping unlicensed and uninsured drivers – may have appeared benign, the system's future use is cause for alarm, said a policy director with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

“This is for interceptions that have nothing to do with stolen vehicles,” Micheal Vonn said.

Instead, the use of police databases combined with license scanning will lead to “pre-emptive policing,” Vonn said.

Read more about privacy concerns at

Share |