Monitoring Your Driving an Invasion of Privacy?

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

( - The federal government is set to begin its first traffic surveillance patrol in the Washington, DC area, prompting at least one conservative activist to call the set-up an invasion of privacy, while a motorist group claims privacy concerns should be overruled in favor of highway safety.

Along the George Washington Parkway, a federally owned highway just across the river from Washington, DC, the National Park Service has installed two stationary radar machines, each accompanied by a camera. National Park Service officials plan to implement the system in full by February, 2000.

Vehicles clocked traveling more than the posted speed limit will be photographed and citations will be mailed to the owner. If the citation is not adjudicated with the federal magistrate's court, payment will be automatically due to the federal government's collection office.

The first such federally instituted traffic surveillance system should be cause for concern among conservatives, according to Free Congress Foundation President Paul Weyrich, who said he is puzzled why there has not been more outrage over the addition.

"Just because the police have a hard time nabbing speeders on the Parkway is no reason to do away with the rights of the rest of us," said Weyrich recently in a column. "What troubles me is that no one is protesting this move. Why not?"

Weyrich, along with other motorists and privacy experts, is concerned the automated system is questionable along constitutional lines since individual owners are held accountable no matter who is actually driving the vehicle.

Mantill Williams, spokesperson for AAA's Potomac region offices, told the travel club's members in the past three years have let their concern for privacy yield to what may be perceived as an increase in so-called aggressive driving.

AAA found that people who complain about remote radar equipment are typically concerned that such a system is just a way for the police to make money. However, in the case of the two George Washington Parkway remote radar devices, some motorists believe the 40 mile per hour mandated speed limit is impractical for a divided, four lane highway that serves as a feeder to Reagan National Airport as well as the District of Columbia.

In a survey earlier this year, AAA found that 65 percent of its members favored the remote radar system, a finding that Williams told he found "surprising."

So far, the automated surveillance does not seem to have crossed the radar screen of the American Civil Liberties Union, but similarly implemented systems have caused the organization some concern.

The ACLU has previously challenged law enforcement officials who say they are using closed-circuit video surveillance used as a tool of crime prevention and detection.

Civil libertarians are not alone in their opposition to camera surveillance. According to the ACLU, New York City police were themselves in an uproar in 1997 when the department's investigators installed hidden cameras inside a precinct station in an effort to combat "police station graffiti."

In January of this year, the Mississippi chapter of the ACLU challenged the city of Gulfport's plans to install video cameras on telephone and light poles. Police department officials said the camera would help to "monitor high crime areas and would function as a deterrent to criminals," according to the ACLU, which contends the cameras amount to a violation of a "citizen's right to privacy"

Weyrich said one his chief concerns over the use of surveillance cameras is that information collected by the federal government will be shared with the private sector.