Wednesday, June 01, 2005


On KKOB radio this morning the callers and host discussed the new video surveillance cameras at two Albuquerque intersections. One caller asked where the surveillance will stop, and expressed concern that police surveillance by video could go too far, or had gone too far. The host was of the opinion that the caller was overly concerned, that his worries were paranoia. I would say that the caller was right to be worried, and that he was not paranoid; but that video police surveillance is a good thing.

When the electronic bracelet was first introduced, a thoughtful, intelligent young man said, "It depends on who puts it on whom and what for." That statement can be applied here, to traffic video camera surveillance. It depends on who monitors the camera, and what the camera is there to detect. If we were dealing with murders at the intersections, we would probably hear no objections, not even from the ACLU. If we could be sure the images of law abiding motorists were erased immediately, perhaps we would feel better. On the other hand, a record of all the traffic will help to prove to the doubtful, that the guilty are punished, and only the guilty are punished.

It seems that a basic question is whether there is less of an invasion of privacy when a police officer on the scene is personally conducting the surveillance, than when a video camera is used to conduct the surveillance. Assuming that the camera and the policeman see and accurately record, and accurately and faithfully report the same event, which surveillance do you prefer? If you do not want the surveillance at all, that is another matter.

From the standpoint of civil liberties, I much prefer the technology approach. If the government is going to protect me, or place me under surveillance to protect me and others, I prefer that the government do it by the use of technology if possible. For example, if the government wants to see my "papers," or "Let me see some ID," I would prefer that it be done by a machine. Further, I would prefer that the request be truly random or (preferably) be made to everyone.

We need more video camera surveillance for traffic, not less. Yet Mayor Martin Chavez is doing the right thing by taking small steps, and at high danger intersections. He should be commended.

One suggestion, as we watch the fallout and wait for the legal arguments. The citizens should be allowed to see the video as it is shot (sort of like watching the City Council on the public access channel, now to be found on line). We citizens should also be able to see the citations go out, so that we are monitoring the monitors.

Finally, the idea of keeping the citations from the insurance companies and MVD, is ill-advised. You do not need draconian punishments (call them "civil" and turn away the ACLU wrath) as presently set. Certainty of apprehension and prosecution with notice to MVD and the insurance company will do the job.