News Stories

A GOOD Invasion of Privacy?

Newswise - There are plenty of things that go on in Europe that most UScitizens don't want to happen here. Among them are hightaxes (for a correspondingly high level of social programs) andID cards that must be carried at all times and shown upondemand (our drivers licenses serve that purpose, but manymore Europeans do not drive). Another one is the camerasthat have been set up at intersections to take quick flashphotos of cars that are breaking the law (the cars areidentified by their license plates and the drivers arecontacted later by traffic authorities). In London,especially, citizens are on camera a good deal of the time,since video cameras have been set up in many busy areas tophotograph pedestrians. This is a technique that began inthe days of IRA terrorism. Officials predict that we willsoon be watched on the street this way, as well, as adefense against al-Qaeda terrorism. We're used to being oncamera while trying on clothes or gambling in casinos, buthow will we react to NEVER being unwatched in public places?

European traffic officials justify the use of cameras atintersections because they say they reduce the number ofinjuries from car crashes as much as 30%, since they putdrivers on their "best behavior," the same way seeing apatrol car does in the US. If this is the case, the cameraswill be most effective if signs are posted warning peopleabout them, instead of being used to take photos insecret. The cameras are especially effective in reducingthe most dangerous type of crash, in which one car hitsanother's side. This is actually the commonest form of carcrash, due to drivers running red lights, and only moreexpensive cars have door air bags to protect against this.Head-on collisions are relatively rare.

One way these cameras make streets safer is by eliminatingthe high speed car chase, which is a favorite feature on LosAngeles news broadcasts, probably because there are so manyhighways there and the police use helicopters with videocameras in them to monitor the traffic flow. High speed carchases, where a perpetrator tries to drive faster than thepolice who are in pursuit, can cause pedestrian deaths anddamage to property that the fleeing driver hits during thechase. In a recently controversial case, a policeman firedinto a car that was aiming for him at high speed, killingthe driver. LA police have now been forbidden to fire theirguns into fleeing cars.

These traffic cameras also function 24 hours a day--whilecops, who are supposed to be deployed at all hours, cansometimes be found "cooping" (sleeping) in their parkedcars. They could also reduce arrests for DWB ("driving whileBlack") that local police are often accused of, when theyarrest an inordinate number of black people for drivingthrough what are considered "white" neighborhoods,even though they don't break any traffic laws.

Art credit: http://www.freeimages.co.uk

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