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Feel Like You’re Being Watched? You Probably Are

Feel Like You’re Being Watched? You Probably Are

My husband and I have a running joke that every trip I make into Chicago with my car is going to cost us at least $50. This isn’t because parking is so expensive — although that is definitely true, as well — but because there are now red light cameras on almost every major corner. When I learned to drive, I learned that sometimes it was safer to speed up through a changing light if there was no one in front of you so as not to skid to a stop causing undue stress to your car and yourself. I’m not talking about breaking the law here, just making it through an intersection on a yellow light. However, the red light cameras now capture anyone crossing the intersection on a changing light, and the tickets are sent out automatically. Even worse, during the daytime you can’t see the camera flash, so you don’t even know it has caught you until you get the ticket in the mail.

That’s not the worst part about these ubiquitous police cameras. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) just released a report saying that the license plate image captures that the police are storing nationwide are now up to the millions. Sometimes the police keep these pictures for mere weeks before disposing of them, but some keep them for years or even indefinitely. Somewhere, there is a file of pictures of you driving, walking or doing whatever else you’re doing outside. This is stuff that would put even Orwell’s book “1984″ or the popular television series “The X Files” to shame.

How do the police departments justify keeping these images for so long? They say that it is to look out for suspicious vehicles, abducted children, or drug traffickers. Since most of us are probably not driving suspicious vehicles, kidnapping children or selling drugs, one could argue that the police don’t have probable cause to keep such records. However, there’s not much we can do at the moment. Our daily, personal lives are being tracked, photographed and catalogued and there is no law against it. And these cameras aren’t just on street corners; they are on bridges, police vehicles, police smartphones and buildings. With all of these cameras everywhere, taking pictures of everyone doing anything, it’s a wonder that criminals ever get away with their crimes.

While many argue that this is the price we pay for living in a digital world, the ACLU disagrees. Catherine Crump, a staff attorney with the organization says, “There’s just a fundamental question of whether we’re going to live in a society where these dragnet surveillance systems become routine.” According to a National Public Radio report, license plate readers are less thorough than GPS tracking systems, but can still yield the same information: “revealing whether someone is frequenting a bar, joining a protest, getting medical or mental help, being unfaithful to a spouse and much more.”

If you don’t think the police have any right to know this information about you, you’re not alone. The ACLU is proposing that police discard photos of license plates not linked to any crime. However, it will probably be a long time before we see any move on this. The federal government is currently offering grants to local police departments to increase their surveillance technology in the name of homeland security, so this technology is not going away any time soon.

Hopefully, as more people become aware of what an invasive presence these cameras have in our lives, we’ll see some change in policy eventually.

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Photo Credit: Jonathan McIntosh

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95 comments

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2:27AM PST on Nov 30, 2013

I create my own adventures, can't join you because I chill alone don't like socialising and mixing with people unless it about making money..................my buscuits and tea isn't going to pay itself is it. Unless you have something to offer then I can give away some of my precious valuable time.........

2:23AM PST on Nov 30, 2013

Subhanallah I don't know about you guys but I know when I am being watch and followed and I know these low life people whether they are police or not are watching my affair, why they following my affairs I don't really know. It does feel uncomfortable and you can sense it. I use to do it before I use to look outside a window and watch people to see if they can sense it and they always use to look around. Its very uncomfortable, shows how miserable celebrity life is. Its true what they say this world is a delusion, its just all glittle on outside but nothing on the inside........How you can handle that type of life is unbearable. There is nothing interesting and amazing about me so why people are watching me as if this guy is some amzing person is out the question. I mean I am just a dull person, get emotional a lot but that just way I am........I mean bloody heck man there is nothing exciting here.........If you actually getting excited by watching me then that okay go ahead but I am just dull miserable person trying to survive. Enjoying buscuits and tea..........

6:03PM PDT on Aug 4, 2013

Kafka-esk!

10:05PM PDT on Jul 26, 2013

Wow, wish my town would get these. People do this ALL the time here! What is even worse is the ones that block intersections because they just HAVE to get through that light. Even though traffic is backed up and now they have a red light and didn't get all the way across.

6:42PM PDT on Jul 24, 2013

thnx for this

4:03PM PDT on Jul 24, 2013

It's amazing how many people think speed and red light cameras are revenue raisers.

I agree. They're great revenue raisers.

They raise revenue from lawbreakers. Road rules are laws. You either keep them, or break them. If you get caught you pay the penalty. Live with it.

Those who whinge the most, break the law the most.

And yes, I've been caught speeding. And I'd broken the law each time.

Maybe the approach of one Pacific nation should be used.
First offense - a warning, second offense - jail.
Or would that just be prison filling?

7:49AM PDT on Jul 24, 2013

And of course the average American is just fine with the loss of their privacy and freedoms. They are getting what they deserve for not caring baout preserving the freedoms our ancestors sacrificed so much for

6:16AM PDT on Jul 24, 2013

Last week was the 1st time I noticed how many cameras there were on a stretch of expressway going south on interstate 75 in Kentucky to a little town called Dry Ridge. I had mixed emotions about the whole thing. On one side I (probably falsely) felt safer incase something would happen to be since I was alone but on the other hand, it's none of their business where I go. The way I see it's just another way to creature revenue that I would be okay with if it went for things the State so greatly needs but I feel most goes into the pockets of the rich and crooked.

11:23PM PDT on Jul 23, 2013

Does it matter just be law abiding

9:35PM PDT on Jul 23, 2013

OK I admit to having been caught once or twice in the yellow traffic light and got a ticket.

BUT having said that the camera's *HAVE* worked, very few people going through the yellow lights I believed has resulted in less accidents. The traffic lights are timed reasonably well (few exceptions) and even the gangster cars have learned to take it easy.

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