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Photo radar not an invasion of privacy

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Letter to the editor published in the Georgia Straight, April 9, 1998

By Kay Stockholder

I do not believe that the B.C. Civil Liberties Association was inconsistent, as Ian Tootill claims in his March 19th letter, in raising concerns about the use of surveillance cameras as a means of crime control, while making no objection to the use of photo radar to catch speeders.

While there may be other objections to the use of photo radar, the invasion of privacy is not one of them. Pictures are taken only of those who speed; no records are kept of any other drivers who pass the radar equipment. The situation of the driver caught speeding by means of photo radar, apart from the greater difficulty he or she might experience in contesting the ticket, differs not at all from that of the driver caught by traditional means. In both cases the person caught speeding knows he or she has been caught; in both cases a record is kept of the offense, and the records are subject to the same controls.

In sharp contrast, camera surveillance of the streets records digital photographs of all passers by, regardless of what they are doing. Data banks can correlate these images with drivers licenses and the like, and so identify them. Massive information about individuals’ movements and habits, political, commercial and personal activities, can be collected without the persons involved being aware that this information exists.

Furthermore, those who propose using camera surveillance of public places do not tell us how long the data will be kept, who will have access to it, or what uses can be made of it. Given the technological sophistication of data storage and retrieval, camera surveillance of public places, unless carefully hedged by safeguards, raises the spectre of a society that has lost the very concept of privacy.

Apart from the use of cameras, the two cases have virtually nothing in common. Cameras as such do not raise civil libertarian concerns; those concerns arise from what is done with the data they collect.

Kay Stockholder
President