By on May 29, 2009

The Texas state Senate voted Monday to give federal, state and local authorities the ability to track and identify every passing vehicle on state highways. The provision calling for “automatic license plate identification cameras” was slipped into the Senate version of the must-pass Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) reauthorization bill. The provision was not part of the bill introduced in the state House of Representatives, whose less sympathetic members will have to accept or reject the entire 1274-page compromise hammered out by a conference committee. The House voted yesterday to instruct its conferees to insist that the House-passed ban on red light cameras remain in the final text.


The Senate’s surveillance camera proposal promises taxpayer funds to the same private companies that operate photo radar and red light camera systems threatened by the House bill. License plate readers use the same basic technology as automated ticketing machines. Instead of tracking, for example, only those who exceed a certain speed threshold, the plate readers will store a video image of the front passenger compartment and rear license plate of every single passing vehicle. Optical character recognition software identifies the registered vehicle owner and allows for easy indexing of the time and location of travel for each person identified using the highway.

The Senate-passed bill gives police broad authority for the first time to use this information to prosecute any state or federal crime, as long as it is not a traffic violation “punishable by fine only.” The bill also specifies that the cameras may be used to find suspects in amber alert cases, missing senior citizens and those accused of killing a police officer. The capability to search for suspects is exactly what troubles one civil rights group.

“Proponents will argue the readers are looking for bad guys — drug smugglers and other criminals — but the cameras cannot distinguish between your SUV and a drug smuggler’s SUV,” the Texas branch of the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement. “The readers are technology and as with any technology, they have a tendency to make errors. In this case, the implications are traffic stops of drivers misidentified as suspects wanted for serious crimes.”

In some cases, those errors can turn deadly. On May 19, 2008 a Northumbria, UK police officer received an Automated Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) alert about a passing Renault Megane automobile. Believing the vehicle could be driven by a dangerous criminal, the officer began following the Renault and hit speeds of 94 MPH in a residential neighborhood without using his siren. After cresting a hill, the police Volvo slammed into and killed sixteen-year-old pedestrian Hayley Adamson who did not see the police car coming. It turns out the database was wrong and the driver being chased was completely innocent. (View video of the incident up to the moment of the crash).

British authorities have been using ANPR for several years, working to centralize ANPR data to allow police to keep tabs on criminals and political opponents. A data center in North London offers real-time, nationwide tracking capability. Australian and American red light camera companies hope to offer the same centralized tracking services in the US.

The license plate provision attached to the TxDOT sunset bill passed the full Senate last month without debate as Senate Bill 1426. The language was drafted by state Senator Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands).

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24 Comments on “Texas Senate Endorses Freeway Spy Cameras...”


  • avatar
    slateslate

    ttac isn’t the place for debates for political theory but anyhow…..IMHO this is why I don’t like the, “If you’re innocent you don’t have to worry” crowd (say for torture, expansive search/seizure laws or airport security).

    It’s called a slippery slope, *sigh*. Once you bend the rules in the name of “public safety” for one area, there’s nothing stopping from expansive surveillance in the name of public safety for anything.

    The automatic plate recognition cameras + bureaucracy can’t even get license plates read for automated tolls right 100%. I thought Texas was more libertarian than this and a bill like this would die in committee, lol….but I guess the industrial/homeland security complex is there too.

  • avatar
    Joe O

    This is what happens when the slippery slope turns into a free fall. Britain is tracking criminals and political opponents? Nice.

    Britain’s nationwide camera system has not actually decreased crime, violent crime, or had any statistically positive effect AFAIK. But the intrusion into private life is very prevalent. And yet it still exists. Why?

    Joe

  • avatar
    Smegley

    Why don’t they just implant GPS chips in all our heads and get it over with. Then they can put cameras everywhere, and every person that the camera picks up that does not have a corresponding GPS signal is subject to immediate arrest. It’s all in the interest of public safety, and since most of us are good people only the bad guys will have to worry.

    Plus those GPS chips can hook into our optic nerves and record our actions and report unapproved actions to Janet Totalitariano at Homeland Security. It’s a perfect system!

  • avatar
    MikeyDee

    Isn’t Texas where they make a sport out of executing people?

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    it would be my impression that texans would take stick a .308 winchester round into every camera?

    there’s a state in my country where they installed a single camera as a tester

    i think it copped several rifle rounds before they packed up that idea

    of course the more populous urban states have cameras everywhere

  • avatar
    OldandSlow

    The cameras are already in place along toll roads here in Texas. Trust me the technology is already to go and it works. Folks are getting toll charges for vehicles they sold long ago – but the next owner has yet to change the registration.

  • avatar
    no_slushbox

    “The bill also specifies that the cameras may be used to find suspects in amber alert cases, missing senior citizens and those accused of killing a police officer.”

    Only two of those three cases deserve special treatment. The cop killer is no worse than any other killer, and posssibly had a good reason. See Hayley Adamson above if one of her family members had the balls and lack of anything to lose to take out John Dougal.

    Someone that kills a cabbie, now they should be tracked down. That is a valuable service provided by a very hard working person that faces huge financial and health risks. Not just an overprotected possible (in Chicago probable) criminal that lucked into a government job with a union that makes the UAW look benign.

    Now that “the man” is black “law and order” poor white trash are finally realizing that government security measures need to be questioned. Sometime they might end up on the wrong end of “Protecting America”. Hell, they’ve even had to finally question the Department of Homeland Security after people that met the Oklahoma bomber, as opposed to the WTC bomber, profile got on the DHS watch list.

    Hopefully Texans can shut this down; despite the state’s supposed libertarian tendancies it is becoming a hot bed for toll roads and police state policies like these cameras.

  • avatar
    tedward

    I think we can be confident that this has absolutely nothing to do with law enforcement. Legislators that already accepted bribes from the camera vendors are probably feeling real pressure to produce an actual kickback, and not just support for a failed red light camera initiative. I’m sure their busy putting the screws to everyone else, promising to block their lobby driven legislation in turn if they don’t get something, anything for the vendors. It may be cynical as hell, but it would be foolishly naive to assume anything else.

    “i think it copped several rifle rounds before they packed up that idea”

    Seriously, more of that please.
    The only way to really step-back these companies and lawmakers is to make operating and installing camera systems costly or dangerous (I prefer costly). If you get a ticket, NOT GUILTY. Drag it out as long as your personal convenience and budget allow, if you’re flush with cash for some reason, sue the vendor and municipality afterwards (you’ll lose, but it’ll cost the state and the vendor more than you spent by a long shot). It would be nice to rely on referendums and such to push back against the politicians, but what these guys are offering is a permanent stream of lobbying income, and that is truly hard to compete with short of outright civil disobediance. In politically safe, gerrymandered to hell, districts there is literally no other recourse.

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    Smegley :

    Plus those GPS chips can hook into our optic nerves and record our actions and report unapproved actions to Janet Totalitariano at Homeland Security. It’s a perfect system!

    Talk about getting government into the bedroom! Make sure your lover has her hair done and all her makup on.

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    Tedward:

    Fight, yes.

    But the only true long-term solution is term limits. Term limits either by way of the ballot box or by way of State and/or Federal Constitutional Amendment.

    Term limits for politicians will drain the power and clout away from lobbyists like a good flush.

    The next step is to get government out of the business of education. We need separation of School and State!

  • avatar
    Smegley

    ZoomZoom please PLEASE don’t ever bring up “lover” and “Janet Totalitariano” in the same post. The thought of these two in the same hour might make us all impotent for months now.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    “Folks are getting toll charges for vehicles they sold long ago – but the next owner has yet to change the registration.”

    My state of Washington has a Report of Vehicle Sale that you should fill out when you sell a car. This prevents problems like that. It is available online. It also has a place to enter the price you sold the car for; agree with your buyer as to what that number should be. Avoiding excess is the key.

    And, “Term limits for politicians will drain the power and clout away from lobbyists like a good flush.”

    Not! With a constant flow of newbies into the elective positions the bureaucrats and lobbyists who continue to keep their jobs would have even more power than they do now.

  • avatar
    Tommy Jefferson

    Term limits make every legislator a short-timer with nothing to lose because they don’t care about re-election.

    I’ve decided it’s time to start actively resisting The State. The current crop of legislators, raised on 60′s Marxist egalitarianism, believe every manner of violence and coersion are justified if it serves “the public good”.

    It’s time for self-defense.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    + 1 for tedward.

    Costly legal battles on an individual basis will help to hurt the profitability of speed camera companies and the state officials they’ve bribed, err, convinced to go along with this charade.

  • avatar

    NYC wants to do this too. When you cross the border of NYC, there are large overhead frames, much bigger than that for a sign. Right nearby, are the microwave linking towers.

    It was confirmed to me that they were for surveillance, not traffic enforcement.

    Once King Bloomberg gets re-coronated/re-buys his Mayorship, we may look to this system being completed and coming on line. Every car in and out of NYC will be tracked.

    Recall the 9/11 hijackers were all caught on video, had licenses, etc…didn’t do any good.

  • avatar
    chuckR

    Pardon me, but didn’t we read here not long ago about some fun loving kids in Maryland? You know, the ones who photoshopped their teacher’s license plates and taped the printed output over their own plates, then drove by a surveillance camera at illegal speed? It’s time to collect the plate numbers of all the legislators who approve of this, don’t you think?

  • avatar
    "scarey"

    Last week, I saw on the TV news, a report on two new license plate scanner/readers, 1 in Omaha, 1 in Lincoln, Nebraska, as of now, the first 2 in Neb.
    They are in state patrol cars, and linked to a central computer. They can alert on stolen cars, expired plates. etc. . The data is also used for PATTERN ANALYSIS, meaning if you are recorded driving by a school too many times in a year (or more), you may be investigated as a possible child molester. If you are recorded driving in a high-crime area too often, and don’t live there, you may be under suspicion too. The data can plot every instance of your license plate being recorded on a map with times and dates included. Just wait till every cop car has these, you dirty thought criminals !
    Wolverines !

  • avatar
    Daniel J. Stern

    The language was drafted by state Senator Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands)

    Mm. Now which kind of (R) is that, then? Is it the “Small government” kind? Or the “With Libertee and Justice Frall” kind? Or the “Get the government’s nose out from under private citizens’ tents!” kind?

    No, wait, wait, I see, it’s the “My little corner of the government is for sale to the highest corporate bidder, and ƒuçk everyone else, besides if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear” kind.

  • avatar
    bmcreider

    Daniel – I agree exactly.

    Especially these days, all you hear about from Republican politicians and talk show hosts is how the Democrats are all socialists, and they are for fiscal responsibility (except for when they control the government), etc…

    And then I hear that the red light cameras were introduced originally by a Republican in TX, and now this spy camera bs is by a Republican.

    At least the Democrats don’t preach small government when they let big brother loose.

    These politicians, on both sides, are pieces of shit that will do anything for the highest bidder.

  • avatar
    shaker

    It’s upcoming cases like this that the ACLU was made for (now I have to wash my keyboard off with soap).

    A long-range paintball gun sounds like a good idea, but even reversible damage is probably a big fine if you get caught.

    Too much power for stupid cops and politicians to have, really – it’s like the opposite of DNA evidence; tech that can get innocent people into trouble. If it happens once, that’s too much.

    Not to mention the conflict-of-interest with the camera company needing revenue; this is a place where the gov’t needs to be accountable.

  • avatar
    Kev

    The provision calling for “automatic license plate identification cameras” was slipped into the Senate version of the must-pass Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) reauthorization bill.

    Precisely the reason we need to change the way legislation is crafted; things shouldn’t be allowed to be “slipped in” like that.

    With a constant flow of newbies into the elective positions the bureaucrats and lobbyists who continue to keep their jobs would have even more power than they do now.

    Let’s try this: Term limits for all in government, including staffers and bureaucrats (exceptions for the military, of course). Nobody spends more than ten years of their career in government, and they can’t start there either; the only entry-level careers should be in the productive class, and that’s where people should return after loaning their talents (which they’ll actually have, being in the productive class beforehand) to government for a short time.


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