California City to Transform Red Light Cameras Into Spy Cameras

The Newspaper
Tuesday July 31, 2007

Privacy advocates have long viewed red light cameras with the suspicion that the devices were the first step down a path of increased surveillance. Those fears may come true as the city of Oakland, California has revealed that it is working with the state legislature to secure a change in the law that will allow red light cameras to become full-scale surveillance cameras. In a memo from the Oakland Police Department dated June 26, Police Chief Wayne G. Tucker recommended that the city's lobbyist be ordered to advocate a new law in Sacramento.

"The legislation would also allow the use of those (red light camera) images for evidentiary purposes other than the enforcement of red light violations, such as reckless driving, assaults, public nuisance activity, drug dealing, etc."

The request came in conjunction with a plan to allow camera vendor Redflex to operate 20 video cameras at intersections 24-hours a day. The city council unanimously approved this ticketing contract with the Australian company on July 17 which is expected to generate several million in new revenue.

Because California law currently forbids the use of red light cameras for spying, the proposed ordinance urged deletion of the following passage from the Vehicle Code Section 21455.5: "Confidential information obtained from the Department of Motor Vehicles for the administration or enforcement of this article shall be held confidential, and may not be used for any other purpose."

Oakland recommends this passage be replaced with, "Photographic records may be used by law enforcement agencies for any law enforcement purpose." One observer suggested Oakland's red light program may be a Trojan Horse.

"While certain municipalities have installed surveillance cameras in high crime areas on the theory that the public has no expectation of privacy on public property, it has also been recognized that these cameras can be directed at targets located on private property for the 'private and pleasurable' purposes of camera operators," OneCitizenSpeaking wrote. "There does not appear to be any apparent safeguards or penalties associated with this unauthorized spying on private citizens which is totally unrelated to public necessity and which is unlikely to be discovered by abused and aggrieved members of the public."

A full copy of the memo is available in a 660k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: Agenda Report (City of Oakland, 7/17/2007)

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