About a year ago, I received an envelope in the mail from the city of St. Louis. I opened it up and inside there were a few pictures of me in my car going through the intersection of Manchester and Kingshighway. The envelope also contained a ticket for a hundred dollars. It seems that I didn’t make a complete stop and look both ways before making a right hand turn on a red light.
There has been a lot of controversy here in St. Louis about the red light cameras that we have scattered at intersections around town. Are they an invasion of privacy or a good way to catch traffic offenders, make the roads safer, and increase ticket revenue for the city? One St. Louis attorney says that if you get one, you should tear it up and throw it in the trash.
He says that there is no way to identify that you were actually the driver of the car or if it was someone else. But if it was someone else you have to rat them out by stating their name on the ticket when you mail it in. The attorney also said that right now they don’t issue an arrest warrant for the ticket, so why pay it?
There are also some other uses for the “big brother” cameras. They have been installed in some areas of downtown as anti-crime cameras. The powers that be think that they can be used to stop purse snatchers and other petty criminals. Cameras have been used for a long time to catch shoplifters in stores, but that takes place on private property so the store owners can pretty much do what they want.
Now the red light cameras are serving a double purpose. Some of them are being used to run license plate checks and catch car thieves and other criminals that have fled the scene. According to the St. Louis post Dispatch:
“Just after midnight on Oct. 26, the stolen Jeep Cherokee of a university professor who was slain the previous morning passed a camera mounted on a pole. It took the automatic camera less than a second to scan and process the license plate number, discover it in a database and send out an alert to police cars.”
The police successfully recovered the stolen Jeep in a few hours. The driver of the stolen Jeep is also being questioned in the murder of the college professor. These types of cameras are also being used all along the border between the United States and Mexico to monitor illegal aliens trying to cross and watching the influx of illegal drugs into this country.
But unlike the red light cameras that only take a picture when someone runs the red light, the cameras are now being used to photograph everyone no matter what they are doing. And that fact bothers some who are privacy advocates.
Before, officers had to be suspicious of a plate and then enter it into the computer manually. Now it all takes place in a second and every car the camera sees is scanned. Just like with computers that keep a history of all the websites visited, the cameras can keep a record of exactly where a person is at any time if they drive their car.
What’s next, cameras mounted in our bedrooms? Is 1984 very far away?