As a citizen, governmental laws have always played a major role in the way we conduct ourselves. Whether it’s when we vote or when we sit down in our car to travel, they always have a say or way to regulate us. When it comes to the motor vehicle, being a daily driver of suburban and urban areas are stressful enough. Within the last few years, the government has introduced a new X-factor causing many drivers anxiety and even possibly altering a driver’s ability to use their own intuition on being safe and respectful. This new x-factor can come in several forms of traffic violation cameras. The increasing number of cameras being put into effect raises concerns. Having a camera on every street corner leads to concerns about privacy and overreaching by the government in its ability to monitor the movements of people. Even worse, the accuracy and efficacy of these cameras can be called into question, meaning this invasion of privacy does not even have tangible benefits. These cameras are truly an abuse of power by the government, and are an unethical used of technology in our society.
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A topic that people are very reluctant to realize is how quickly technology has advanced in the recent years. Of course the majority of our society is up to date with the latest version of the iPhone or the newest model of Dr. Dre Beats headphones, but not many people take a second and look around to realize that everything they do from the minute they wake up, to the minute they go to sleep is being monitored. Regardless if it’s the government monitoring them or a computer hacker sitting in his or her basement, your activity and whereabouts are being watched. With every installment of a traffic violation camera, another pair of virtual eyes is watching you. The most common cameras that are being used are Red Light Cameras and Speed Limit Enforcers. Currently, being used in smaller numbers are Bus Lane Cameras and Stop Sign Cameras.
With so many flaws in this growing system of cameras, how can we possibly sit back and give away our right to privacy?
The true reasoning behind the outbreak of these cameras is pretty obvious, revenue. Both state and local government are defending these allegations by claiming that the cameras are for safety. According to the local government of Chicago “Red Light Camera Enforcement is designed to increase safety on Chicago streets. Cities across the country, and throughout the world, have been using the technology for many years.” (Red Light Camera Enforcement). While this defense seems nice on the surface, many studies have actually shown an increase in rear end collisions due to red light cameras. Drivers are becoming so indecisive and hesitant; the roads are becoming more dangerous. Many drivers are slamming on their breaks when the light turns from yellow to green out of fear of a camera flash following a fine, causing the car behind them to slam into the back of their car. It was found that in certain areas, the yellow light time was actually decreased, often below legal limit, in order to increase the amount of red light offenders. The increase in offenders clearly resulted in greater revenue to the government that issued the cameras. When the goal of increased safety is proven wrong and local governments such as Suffolk County, NY are “estimated $6.8 million a year” (Brown, J. 2014), it becomes evident that the dollar sign greatly out weights the cameras intended purpose of safety. In retrospect, an extra $6.8 million a year to the county may seem nice, a better plan should be put in place to raise these funds. This plan of traffic violation revenue seems more like a way of taking advantage of a poorly handled situation to get a quick fix of cash. Many individuals and organizations are fed up with these “scamras” (Werner, A 2012) and are leading successful oppositions of the use of cameras. “Brothers Michael and Paul Kubosh led a successful rebellion against red light cameras in Houston. The city took the cameras down more than a year ago. The brothers say the only reason cities install the cameras in is to make money. It’s estimated that Houston earned $44 million during the four years the cameras were operating.” (Werner,A. 2012). There is no denying that the facts are in the numbers, these cameras are 100% appealing to anyone who rather focus on making money off others mistakes and than protecting us.
Have you ever looked up on your way out of a grocery store and saw a flat screen television with multiple camera angles of you being displayed? Some may think well, the store has a right to know if someone’s stealing from them, while others may feel uneasy that they are being recorded in their pajama pants. Now think about all the other aspects of your life could have been learned from the time you woke up to the time you walked out of the grocery store by the government or any person or agency with hacking abilities. An outburst of use of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook on your smart phone early in the morning may suggest the time you woke up. The pictures you like and comment on suggest your interests. Software has the ability to turn your smartphone camera on and see through it from 100 miles away. Your neighbors’ security camera catches you walking out of your front door without locking it behind you. Now you get into your car, and every intersection from your home to the store has a camera on it. The cameras know: the route you choose to the store, the make, model, color, year and licenses plate of your car you’re in, if you’re in the car alone or with your kids, and if the camera takes high quality images, it may be able to recognize a wedding band on your finger that’s wrapped around your steering wheel determining if you are married or not. Don’t forget the security camera on the way out of the grocery store that recorded you forgetting to get milk. You may ask, what’s the big deal if the little old lady whole mails me my ticket gets to see pictures and a video of me in my car? The problem is anyone who wants those images badly enough, can get a hold of them. With most new red light camera systems, they are recording video 24/7, meaning all drivers (not just red light runners) are being recorded at all times. The video and still images are stored on privately owned computers servers without any verifiable audit trail of when the video is deleted. Meaning that it is unclear to what really happens to all this information. As a society, where do we draw the line to this invasion of our privacy by our governments?
In today’s age we rely heavily on technology and it is safe to say, it doesn’t always work. Technology must be maintained, updated and sometimes restored. Sometimes it can even be defective from the start, “a setback occurred in 2003 when one vendor, who subsequently went out of business, was found to have provided equipment that was inaccurate. This led to negative publicity, suspension of camera use at three sites, and reimbursements of fines and demerit points to about 90,000 motorists.” (Delany, A. 2005) This is just one of many cases in which this system has failed right off the bat resulting in false accusations to a crime. Many of these cameras are recommended by manufactures, to have regular inspections by specialized technicians. A neglected system can result in similar outcomes as the one stated above. It seems that whatever department assigned to maintain these cameras, often does not. Resulting in thousands of issued tickets to many innocent citizens that are invalid. Another case of this failed use of technology occurred in Chicago when their camera vendor, Redflex, was “fundamentally deficient, with little supervision such poor record-keeping that it is difficult to determine why the number of tickets issued spiked during period, as first reported by the Chicago Tribune.” Reflexes’ mishaps with “one detector at the intersection of Kimball, Lincoln and McCormick avenues was largely nonfunctional for years, meaning that the broken system “may have failed to have identify as many as 45,444 violations over a four-and-a-half-year period.”” With an uneducated society on this abuse of technology we quickly pull out are checkbooks to pay off these fines before a warrant is issued to the offender. We are forced to act out of fear rather than fighting for what is wrong and right.
“Although many issues are raised in the numerous and constant debates on the revenue-raising aspects of speed enforcements, one key area of knowledge that can shed some light on it has yet to be highlighted, especially in the research literature. Do we really need to catch offenders to be effective? Can crashes be reduced simply by the presence of police enforcement without the need to issue tickets? Previous research has shown that even plywood replicas of police cars had an effect on driver behavior (Baker and Lawder, 1968) and simply giving a warning also had an effect on driver speed (Ennis, 1967). If the mere presence of police is sufficient to deter speeding, then there is no escape from the revenue-raising allegations” (Tay,R. 2010) The wrong approach is being taken to solve this safety problem. These cameras are not the answer. This plywood cop car study goes to show that the psychological presence of a police officer has a greater impact on how people drive. If a police officers presence if constantly know in a school zone, motorists will subconsciously become alert and be more aware of surroundings. A high majority of people throughout numerous studious have agreed that this would be the more effective method in accomplishing safer roadways for communities.
It is a hard point to miss that these Scamcams, are exactly that. Their intentions may seem great, but the way our government has chosen to implement them is just outright absurd. The notion that we are installing cameras on almost every major street corner is essentially giving another pair of eyes to whoever has the capability to use them. Whether it’s the national government monitoring, a college student with the self taught capability of hacking, or just your local government sticking you with a revenue boosting fine, you are being watched and there’s no ignoring that. We are allowing a problem to spiral out of control right in front of us. We are allowing our governments to encroach farther into our person space and privacy. Not too mention, they’re making a large sum of money off this program. Are their intentions still to make the streets a safer place or did the find a way to use this safety campaign as a cloak to scamming its people. Our National, State and local governments ethics have always been questioned but now with their scamcams, they have finally crossed the line.
Brown, J. (2014, April 23). Traffic cameras have one purpose: To bring in more money. Newsday. Retrieved from http://www.newsday.com/long-island/columnists/joye-brown/traffic-cameras-have-one-purpose-to-bring-in-more-money-1.7807020?pts=762136
Delany, A., Ward, H., Cameron, M., & Williams, A. (2005). Controversies and Speed Cameras: Lessons Learnt Internationally. In Journal of Public Health Policy (4th ed., Vol. 26, pp. 404-415). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan Journals.
Hinz, G. (2014, October 14). City inspector general slams red-light camera program. Retrieved from http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20141010/BLOGS02/141019989/city-inspector-general-slams-red-light-camera-program
Red Light Camera Enforcement. (2011, April 5). Retrieved November 18, 2014, from http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cdot/supp_info/red-light_cameraenforcement.html
Tay, R. (2010). Speed Cameras: Improving Safety or Raising Revenue? In Journal of Transport Economics and Policy (2nd ed., Vol. 44, pp. 247-257). London: University of Bath and The London School of Economics and Political Science.
Werner, A. (2012, January 1). Safety or scam? Red light cameras under scrutiny. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/safety-or-scam-red-light-cameras-under-scrutiny/
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