ACLU Responds to Plan to Use Surveillance Cameras to Track Drivers Who Run Red Lights

July 13, 2000 12:00 am

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NEW YORK — According to a study released yesterday by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, drivers who try to beat red lights are to blame for the deaths of more than 800 people and an estimated 200,000 injuries in the United States each year.

In response to this sobering statistic, the Institute has endorsed the use of red light cameras, which photograph vehicles running red lights and ticket violators by mail.

Last year, for instance, the question of driver’s license privacy exploded in the national media when a New Hampshire company sought to purchase photos and other personal information from approximately 22 million drivers in South

The American Civil Liberties Union does not oppose the use of such cameras for enforcing specific traffic violations, provided that the cameras capture only those images that are necessary to enforce the traffic laws. However, we are concerned about what we call ‘mission creep’ — that the data collected by these cameras will be used for purposes other than tracking reckless drivers.

Government and privacy industry surveillance techniques created for one purpose are rarely restricted to that purpose, and every expansion of a data bank and every new use for the data opens the door to more and more privacy abuses. Carolina, Colorado and Florida. After disclosure of the pending sales in the media, each state was hit with flood of citizen complaints that led the sales to be canceled.

Traffic safety and information privacy are not mutually incompatible concepts. However, if the red light program is to succeed, the American public must be assured that the information collected is used only for the authorized purpose indicated and is not sold, shared or otherwise abused.

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