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Speed Cameras and Individual Liberties
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There is some debate in the Washington area about the increasing use of speed cameras. It is reported that Montgomery County in Maryland has deployed hundreds of them and is raking in \$53,000 a day in fines. The cameras are sited on busy roads and record the license plates of vehicles going five miles per hour over the posted limit. Many are located where the posted speed limit drops, making them electronic speed traps. The fine is mailed to the owner of the car automatically and there is no appeal and no way to determine if the camera was malfunctioning. I assume that speed cameras are also appearing elsewhere in the US.

I admit to having an inbuilt bias in that I have what my father used to call a “lead foot.” I scrupulously adhere to speed limits near schools and whenever I note children, pedestrians, or dogs along the roadway but otherwise I prefer to think that the speed limit is actually ten mph above what is posted, beyond which point one might be subject to police action. The debate in the Washington area over the cameras tends to boil down to drivers who don’t want to pay the fines and are claiming that it is a revenue generating scam vs a local government that insists that the cameras make everyone safer. This is what bothers me. The government can use “safer” to justify anything and has done so in the past to curtail constitutional rights, note the recent assertions of Dick Cheney. There is a serious personal liberties issue which no one is choosing to address. Why should the government have the ability to monitor the movements of a vehicle belonging to me under any circumstances? Does anyone know for sure that the speed cameras are not sending their information to some data base at the Department of Homeland Security? Maybe they are and they shouldn’t be yet, as far as I can tell, there is no oversight to the process.

I recall conversing with a former CIA colleague back in 2002. At that time, shortly after 9/11, CIA was sending officers all over the world, many traveling on authentic US passports in false names. My colleague had returned from Asia and presented his passport to the immigration officer at Dulles Airport. The airport flipped through it, slid it through a scanner, punched a couple of numbers and then asked “What kind of car do you own?” All of the fake passports apparently had some linked data bases that were provided to make them appear more authentic, which is referred to as backstopping. In this case, the immigration officer was able to pull up additional information from state of Virginia records relating to my colleague, who was unaware of the DMV link, was arrested, and spent a few uncomfortable hours in the slammer before being bailed by CIA security. That was in 2002. The all information all the time security state has been much empowered since that time. I think that people who are concerned about the government’s ability to monitor the lives of its citizens should object strongly to the speed cameras. Or they should do as the French did when the cameras were introduced – disable each and every one of them by painting over the lenses or gumming up the works with glue.

(Republished from The American Conservative by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Miscellaneous, Traffic 
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  1. Tom says:

    Well Phil, if you don’t speed, nobody needs to know where you are. I’m for sending random speeding tickets based on a declaration of a habit of speeding as an alternative.

    As far as immigration busting people entering the country on phony passports, I am appalled. How dare those intrusive bureaucrats trample on our freedoms.

  2. Angela says:

    Wow – even the French fought back harder than we did. That’s just an indicator of how pathetic we really are.

  3. Anonymous • Disclaimer says: • Website

    Just look at what is next… using cameras to track and record and profile:

    The author hit it right on the head. The cameras do malfunciton and no one realises this. The camera vendors won’t publish accuracy and error rates.

  4. Cieran says:

    I always make it a point to read anything posted by Mr. Giraldi, as his expertise in national security is singularly excellent, and he presents his thoughts on that subject with plenty of wit and intelligence. His work on this important topic is the main reason I read TAC.

    But this post… well, that’s another story.

    First, the term “lead foot” is just a polite way of saying “I don’t think the laws regarding use of public roads should apply to me”, and what one person calls “a lead foot” another could just as easily call “solipsism”.

    Second, plenty of good research studies (by IIHS, for example) have demonstrated that speed does indeed kill, and that enforcing speed limits saves lives. This comes as no surprise to anyone with a basic understanding of elementary physics.

    And finally, it’s trivial to solve the problem of local governments using speed cameras: just stop speeding! If citizens would simply obey relevant traffic laws (which are actually based on plenty of sound science and engineering, so those laws are much more rational in their basis than is generally thought), then cities could not deploy speed cameras, since there would be no return gained on the investment.

    So lose the lead foot, and watch the cameras disappear. It’s that simple.

  5. Pace, Tom and Cieran – I know driving fast kills people and wasn’t actually advocating speeding, merely admitting that I personally tend to speed a lot. The blog entry is really about the use of technology and multiple interconnected data bases to track us and monitor our activities, which makes me very nervous. Once the surveillance technology is accepted the authorities will be able to monitor citizens all the time and everywhere, such as has pretty much become the case in many parts of Britain.

  6. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Sheeesh! When will people realize that SPEED never killed anyone?
    It’s the impact and sudden loss of blood.
    All joking aside, there’s ”prima facie” speeds- whereby the posted limit is not an absolute, but also other determining factors such as visibility, curves, weather, traffic, etc. The ”85th Percentile Rule”- long considered the holy word of traffic engineers, states that generally the speed 85% of the traffic is going is the safest speed and should be the limit set for a given stretch of roadway.

    With that stated, cameras are B.S., often inaccurate, and are simply revenue-enhancement for cities, counties and states. Those who would argue ”safety,” well who was it that stated ”whoever would give up liberty for safety, deserves neither.”

    Given that our annual traffic deaths in the U.S.A. have fallen to 42-43k/annually, DESPITE much higher Interstate speeds in all states, and roughly 1/3-1/2 involve drugs/alcohol, just HOW many deaths are attributed to speed, excessive or otherwise? Is going 50mph on a road so designed, in the outer burbs with a posted limit of 40mph such a serious crime, and how many roadways with ARTIFICIALLY LOW limits (remember the 85th % rule), are these cameras set up on for the sole purpose of being another bull**it TAX on unsuspecting citizens?

    Google ”speed camera europe” and read some of the horror stories about false charges and bogus tickets being sent out- often to the wrong person. Look up Redflex while you’re at it, and see the 10’s of million\$ they make every year.

  7. Ron says: • Website

    I run a website opposing Maryland speed cameras. The biggest civil liberties issue which I see is the right to face the accuser. Then there is a reduction of the burden of proof: In MD courts some defendants have been told ‘the only acceptable “not guilty” plea was if someone else had been driving their car at the time the ticket was issued, and to present that driver’. That’s a clear presumption of guilt. Plus the state can present evidence without supporting witnesses. AND that evidence is provided by a contractor who gets paid only if the defendant is found guilty — through a per-ticket contract which violates a provision of Maryland law banning such arrangements. This would all be completely unacceptable if we were talking about a career criminal, but somehow it is acceptable in cases involving traffic violators who are primary good taxpaying citizens… because it makes the system more profitable.

    There’s an example of red light cameras in some Prince Georges County towns where they started handing out tickets to drivers who came to a full stop past the while line (as policy, not isolated cases). That’s the sort of thing any driver might do _by accident_ from time to time to avoid actually running a red light. Putting drivers in such a rock-and-a-hard-place situation is outright stupid. I fully expect to see Prince George’s County towns misusing speed cameras similar ways within a few years. We will see.

    BTW The name of my website was inspired when I visited a police station in Germantown MD to report a crime (which was never prosecuted), and inside the station I saw a Montgomery County Safe Speed sign with the words “Big Brother is Watching You” pasted over top. Also my father is a retired police officer, his exact words when hearing about speed cameras coming to Maryland was “that’s just not right”. They know what they are doing.

  8. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Frequently, it is assumed that law enforcement agencies are behind these cameras. While law enforcement generally administers the camera enforcement programs, remember it is the governmental bodies that decide whether to implement them or not.

    Attached is an article, written by a police officer and found on a law enforcement website ( that offers an interesting perspective from the point of view of a cop.


    A. Waite

  9. I recently got one of those robo-tickets from Maryland. It’s just a form of government rip off. But then again I live in the speed trap town of Yardley Pennsylvania that uses live cops to do the same thing. We have gotten used to the state extracting money from us at gunpoint under the rubric of safety. I’m a former peace officer and frankly the whole traffic enforcement area of law enforcement is only secondarily about safety. It’s mostly about revenue and stopping cars in hopes of making drug busts.

    AWaite220 is right though. Many cops resent being armed meter maids. In speed trap towns you have cops selected by the government specifically for their willingness to screw the public. That’s very destructive as it creates cop-haters among the public while putting questionable characters in a position of trust.

    Citizens need to react to this BS. I wonder if Judicial Watch or some other right of center law advocacy group would take up a challenge to these machines? If I lived in Maryland I’d go around and put up my own signs warning drivers ahead of the traps, just to drive the bastards revenue down.

  10. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    “Second, plenty of good research studies (by IIHS, for example)”

    What organization could possibly be more in favor of lowered speed limits than the International Institute for Highway Safety, an insurance company lobbying group? As the number of speeding tickets go up, so do insurance premiums.

    “which are actually based on plenty of sound science and engineering, so those laws are much more rational in their basis than is generally thought”

    Yeah, the thing is, sometimes they are, but more often they’re not. Local municipalities will always find a way to justify lowering speed limits beyond the prevailing 85th percentile speed, because that’s how many of them stay afloat financially: the constant flow of money from speeding tickets.

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