What’s Wrong With The Cameras Recording 24 hours a Day?

August 27, 2009

When we travel on public roads, we have a reasonable expectation of privacy.  For us to be noticed out on the road is one thing, but for our movements statewide to be tracked by a private company, or by the government, is unacceptable.  American Traffic Solutions provide photo radar systems for Pima County, and red light camera systems for the City of Tucson.  They also provide these services for many other communities in Arizona.  These cameras record everyone who passes by, whether they are breaking any traffic laws or not.  They are gathering information about our movements on an unprecedented scale with this video, and no one oversees them in the handling of this information.  In fact, they lied about the fact that they record this video in order to ease the acceptance by our elected officials.  As long as the cameras are up, we have no way of knowing what is recorded, or how the information is being used.  Therefore, the cameras must be removed.

In addition to recording video, they are identifying each vehicle that passes their cameras using a software tool called Automatic Number Plate Recognition, or ANPR.  This is a computer program which automatically reads the license plate numbers in the camera images in real time.  These systems can read one plate per second for cars traveling up to 100 mph, and are getting better all the time.

I don’t know what this database actually looks like, but I am an engineer, and if I were designing this system, this is what I would record:

Date Time Plate # Speed Direction Registered Owner
2009-Aug-23

12:03.1

123XYZ

33

North Chuck Huckelberry
2009-Aug-23

12:04.2

424XYZ

35

North Ramón Valadez
2009-Aug-23

12:05.7

GLX942

39

North Sharon Bronson
2009-Aug-23

12:07.0

AE64295

31

South Richard Elías
2009-Aug-23

12:07.1

892WES

34

North Karin Uhlich
2009-Aug-23

12:08.1

999LMT

33

North Nina J. Trasoff

Modern computer hardware can easily store millions of these records for months or years without spending a lot of money.  Before too long, they will also have the capacity to store images with your record.  These images will show you, your car, you children, and any other passengers.  I am not sure how far facial recognition software has come, but the examples I have seen are pretty good at identifying individuals.

The cameras are not monitored by law enforcement.  They are monitored by employees of American Traffic Solutions, in the case of the Pima County or City of Tucson cameras, or Redflex, for the Department of Public Safety cameras. The control of this information by law enforcement is tenuous, at best.

Let’s say an unscrupulous employee of one of these companies did a little data analysis, and decided to pull all the records for Chuck Huckleberry from camera site P134:

2009-Aug-19

11:03.1

123XYZ

33

North Chuck Huckelberry
2009-Aug-19

12:08.1

123XYZ

35

South Chuck Huckelberry
2009-Aug-20

12:25.5

123XYZ

33

North Chuck Huckelberry
2009-Aug-20

22:53.6

123XYZ

36

South Chuck Huckelberry
2009-Aug-21

12:01.0

123XYZ

39

North Chuck Huckelberry
2009-Aug-21

17:08.3

123XYZ

34

South Chuck Huckelberry

This employee could determine that Mr. Huckleberry is away from his home every day from at least 8:00 am to 5:10 pm.  He could pass this information off to an acquaintance who might be interested in burglarizing Mr. Huckleberry’s house.  Furthermore, if Mr. Huckleberry decided to go home early on the day of the robbery, the employee would see his license plate come up on the computer and be able to warn the robbers.

Alternatively, they could see that perhaps Mr. Huckelberry was in Kingman on a particular day, and know he is not home.  Do you really want a private company to have this kind of detailed information about your whereabouts?

No one knows if American Traffic Solutions is using ANPR in Tucson or Pima County.  They are not supposed to be, but they have the technology in place, and they lied to the City of Tucson and the Pima County Board of Supervisors about 24 hour recording even taking place.  Both entities were specifically assured that it wasn’t, but it was revealed later that it is.  Karin Uhlich from the Tucson City Council, and Richard Elias and Ray Carroll from the Pima County Board of Supervisors publicly complained about this in January.  Karin Uhlich stated, “When the Mayor and Council approved the red light cameras, we were explicitly told that the cameras would be only be activated during a violation. We were told they would not be running all the time.”

In light of these revelations, how can assurances they are not currently using it be believed?  They record you whether you are breaking any laws or not.  With cameras statewide linked together, we are putting a lot of information into the hands of private companies that the government is not keeping very close track of.

We have a reasonable expectation of privacy when we are out in public and these cameras remove all pretense of privacy.  It is unacceptable for a private company or the government to record us on such a large scale.  The only way to be assured we are not being recorded is to remove the cameras.  I am a careful driver, and I am in favor of better enforcement of traffic laws, but cameras are not the way to do it.

– James Howard

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Top 10 Reasons Tucson’s Red Light Cameras are Rigged.

August 21, 2009

1. They are placed at intersections close to the city limits, so most of the tickets will go to people who can’t vote for the city council.

2. They use imaginary lines to enforce the law, and not the stop bar or crosswalk.

3. The yellow arrows too short, so they can hand out more tickets.  They do not meet national standards.

4. They record every license plate that goes through, whether any traffic laws are broken or not.

5. The judge who hears the cases is married to the Assistant Police Chief.

6. The camera systems are not calibrated to National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) standards.

7. The pavement markings do not meet TDOT standards.

8. Most crashes at intersections happen when someone turns left into oncoming traffic when the light is green.  These cameras do nothing to prevent that.

9. TPD officers are getting their tickets thrown out as a professional courtesy, even when they are off-duty.

10. Process sever arrested for giving false testimony causing  hundreds of people to get their drivers license suspended for NO reason.

– James Howard