We’ve all seen them; and we may have gotten a friendly letter in the mail from our local government as a result of them as well. Those infernal speed and/or traffic light cameras.
The people who advocate for them say that they are a deterrent to dangerous driving and therefore reduce accidents, but when scientists actually tabulated the results, it turns out those making the “deterrent” argument are often mistaken.
I’m not completely ignorant of the potential benefit of these devices. During the investigation of an accident, all that is truly desired is the truth; these cameras can provide that. If for instance, an accident occurs, and in an attempt to determine who was at fault, the police wish to review footage from a camera, then this is a very good and fair use of such devices.
But when these devices trigger legal action, this is what changes such machines from a technology advancement in investigation towards the ominous Big Brother. George Orwell’s 1984 was not a heart warming story where Big Brother was a robotic June Cleaver after all, I suspect people from almost all political sides were bothered by it.
The reason this is wrong is that it defies the purpose of our government, which by design, exists solely to protect our rights. As such, the point of traffic laws is to ensure people drive safely so as not to harm other motorists, violating their right to life and/or property. The financial penalties should be to help pay for the people to do the work of enforcing traffic laws and to serve as an incentive not to do it again. The government is not a business intended to make a profit, so revenue generation outside the tax structure violates the core of our nation.
So how is a real police officer doing a traffic stop any different from one of these cameras? There are two very important distinctions.
Every day, people manage to drive safely along the highway using the unwritten rule of 5-10 m.p.h. above the speed limit, and they often do so in front of police who rightly determine that as long as people are driving safely, they don’t need to be hassled. But machines cannot make such judgment calls, they are purely indiscriminate.
The second issue is that if an officer on duty sees someone driving unsafely, they will pull them over in an effort to stop them before they harm someone; something I think is often abused, but is necessary nonetheless. There’s never any way to know of course, but it likely saves lives.
A camera doesn’t stop anything however, the motorist continues on their merry way until days later when they receive a letter with their picture on it, if they were driving so dangerous as to likely kill someone, the deed was already done.
So if we understand from the study mentioned above that they are not an effective deterrent, and we know they don’t physically prevent someone from driving unsafely, then their only purpose left in life is investigation, and revenue generation—only one of which should be acceptable.
My idea? A “No Big Brother” constitutional amendment. The verbiage would go something like this:
The right of the people to not be policed, fined, or governed by an inanimate object shall not be infringed. Inanimate devices either owned and/or operated by government may not be used as an impetus for legal action.
Governments have already spent millions of taxpayer dollars on these devices, so I’m not suggesting they be scrapped altogether; that would be wasteful. But while 1984 may be fictional, that doesn’t change the fact that these devices are a fairly accurate representation of how something like Big Brother would start if left unfettered. If we endeavor to remain a free country versus a policed-state, that means at some point a line must be drawn.
Our forefathers couldn’t have accounted for this, 1984 was not written or even imagined back then, electricity wasn’t even understood. But this is why they left open the amendment process so that in the future, new restraints on government could be added to fit the times and protect our liberties from an oppressive government, which is the underlying point of the U.S. Constitution.
The line I’m drawing is fairly simple. If an occurrence needs investigated, use all the technology available to do so. However, if there has been no crime or incident reported, these devices should just be recording information that will be forever ignored.
Our forefathers may not have been able to anticipate a surveillance state, but every ounce of recorded history shows that they certainly didn’t expect nor want the government to be making the king’s ransom.