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data privacy

Max Heine

AP: Gotcha! Traffic cams’ massive data piles create privacy issues

| July 18, 2013

Truckers by now have become familiar with the increasingly detailed electronic trail they create. Certainly any driver who’s been through the log book wringer by an ambulance chaser following a wreck knows all the time stamps out there.

Pro drivers are also more aware of traffic cameras than most four-wheelers, though many motorists are doing some catching up, thanks to a report released Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union. It sheds light on how extensive the cameras are, and how cities are collecting tons of data that can reveal a lot more than running a red light.

As this Associated Press account notes: “Although less thorough than GPS tracking, plate readers can produce some of the same information, the group says, revealing whether someone is frequenting a bar, joining a protest, getting medical or mental help, being unfaithful to a spouse and much more.”

red light camera

Plate-reading technology has become much cheaper, so even small cities have been able to install the systems.

Being a new technology, such systems are open to abuse because many cities and states have not addressed their limits. For example, the story said that in Minneapolis, Minn., “Until the city temporarily classified such data late last year, anyone could ask police for a list of when and where a car had been spotted.”

So much for defenders’ arguments that beyond the immediate traffic violation use, the data would be used only in helping to solve difficult crimes or prevent terrorism. Imagine being the ex-wife of a violent man, knowing that he could trace your current travel patterns.

And there are other questionable angles:

  • Revenue. After the initial investment, these systems no doubt produce a healthy cash stream for local governments, which can cloud the judgment of those setting limits on useage.
  • Safety. As I wrote about in a prior post, some studies indicate spy cameras improve safety, but another one showed an increase in rear-end collisions.

What do you think about the spread of traffic cams?

  • No Reform

    With Qualcom our movements are tracked 24/7..who needs a Camera??

  • gary d

    i could see a benefit in stopping amber alerts quick and easy but as far as tracking our every move is a few years away yet with the cameras. the companies can already do it with the quallcomms.

  • Brandt Hardin

    Traffic cameras are just another form of Policing for Profit as Capitalism distorts our Justice System. These companies are bottom-feeders and take a 40% cut of the tickets while creating MORE dangerous intersections by fixing the lengths of yellow lights to entrap drivers. You can read about how private companies and crooked politicians have turned our Police forces on their ear in every attempt to squeeze money out of the general public at

  • Paul Erna

    They need a camera whenever Bobby Brown goes out in his car

    Bobby Brown Serves Nine Hours in Jail for Third DUI

    by AUTO NEWS on MARCH 21, 2013

    While California is known for having some of the toughest DUI laws in the nation, it seems Bobby Brown has been let off easy. He was released Wednesday after serving nine hours of his 55-day jail sentence for driving under the influence.

  • espfan

    Another article to scare drivers. My question here is: why couldn`t these cameras help to find my stolen truck and trailer in Chicago? Cameras at every intersection yet not a single clue from the cameras.(also, CPD didn`t give a crap). These newsletters start to stink like intimidating propaganda

  • King Vagabond

    Although there is some merit in using traffic cams for public safety, they quickly degenerate into policing for profit. Interestingly enough, from reading related articles in “Overdrive” and “Landline” there is no consistent legal standard for traffic light timing. The federal guidelines are only a recommendation. In my opinion, this is not capitalism, but a cancer of government and private enterprise joining together to shake down the public.

  • Andrea Sitler PhD DsC

    Invasion of privacy – plan and simple. The legal eagles will argue it is public venue therefore it is not privacy invasion but tracking, without reasonable cause, is privacy invasion.

  • john3347

    I have a gripe with “spy” cameras. Whether red light cameras, speed monitoring cameras, or some other form of camera. Here is my gripe! These cameras are not owned by, managed by, maintained by, or otherwise controlled by the municipality that benefits from the revenue raised by them. These cameras are owned, installed and calibrated and maintained by (guess who) the camera company and they are paid strictly by a percentage of the take. There is no procedure to even encourage, much less force the camera owner to make the cameras accurate. Where there is the opportunity for fraud, there is going to be fraud. This is my beef with red light cameras. The cities should buy them and have a non-local company maintain them for a flat fee. The opportunity for fraud should be eliminated before a city is allowed to install these devices.

  • martymarsh

    Another money scam, and they actually get to keep more of the dollar because I would assume they don’t need as many cops, or are they now sitting around doing nothing?

  • Truckman

    To a lesser degree,they also help after accidents to prove what actually caused the accident or fix blame in Court. To that end,they should be sealed and inaccessible unless needed for an active investigation or Court case. Other than that,you’re right-nothing more than an electronic revenue builder.

  • Jimmy the Greek

    Thats Right ! The DEA found that out on a case in DC , lol strives to maintain an open forum for reader opinions. Click here to read our comment policy.