Don’t smile for these cameras: Opposition to highway devices urged
Jerry Begly says government video cameras installed along Highway 82 are violating motorists’ right to privacy.
The problem is becoming so widespread, said Begly, a Snowmass Village resident, that he is holding public meetings up and down the valley to inform people of what he calls a violation of the Fourth Amendment right barring unreasonable search and seizure.
He hosted a meeting last Thursday evening at the Carbondale Public Library.
“Eight years ago, (the Colorado Department of Transportation) put up a camera at Highway 82 and Cemetery Lane. It was supposed to be for the public to look at traffic,” he said.
Since then, he’s counted 36 cameras along highways in the Roaring Fork Valley and the West Glenwood area.
In an attempt to have the cameras removed, Begly is collecting signatures for a “redress of grievance.” The redress is a way for people to peacefully petition the government for change, as spelled out in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“What do we do, just sit here and wring our hands?” he asked. “I’m proposing we do a redress of grievance.”
CDOT officials have said the cameras are used only for traffic control as part of their Smart Highway System and deny they’re used for surveillance.
But Begly said he’s concerned that with the advent of facial-recognition technology – which the Colorado Division of Motor Vehicles started using in September – the government will start to use the cameras to spy on its citizens.
“CDOT says they’re only there for maintenance,” he said. CDOT officials also have told him the cameras do not have high-resolution capabilities. But he feels the cameras – which cost about $5,000 apiece – do have high resolution and could easily be used to watch motorists.
“At $5,000 per camera, you’d think they have some pretty good resolution,” he said.
In 2000, the state Legislature required the Colorado Division of Motor Vehicles to begin using facial recognition software.
The technology will map every driver’s facial characteristics like a three-dimensional land chart.
The law was passed to help prevent identity theft and driver’s license fraud. The program was supposed to go online earlier, but software problems pushed its start date back to September 2002.
“It’s in the law that we have to provide that,” DMV spokeswoman Dorothy Dalquist said. “It was passed originally as a help to businesses, to help cut down on people getting fraudulent driver’s licenses and multiple IDs.”
According to the law, the technology is limited to DMV use and law enforcement agencies will not have access to the DMV database. But Begly insists that could change with the stroke of a pen.
“It would take a law change,” Dalquist said. “As far as I know, the legislature isn’t talking about that.”
The idea of using facial recognition technology to observe and identify people is not unheard of.
Such a system was started up in the Ybor City nightlife district of Tampa, Fla., in 2001. Using it, images of random people were gathered and compared to a database of felons and runaways to see if any matches came up. But the system was heavily criticized after a Tampa man was mistakenly identified and improperly accused by police of child neglect.
Also, according to an article in the Toronto Star, several airports have begun using the technology, and people taking the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and other New York City islands over this past Memorial Day weekend were photographed and compared to a database provided by various federal agencies, including the FBI, of terrorist suspects and wanted criminals.
Begly plans at least two more meetings in Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction, but the dates and times of these meetings are not yet scheduled.
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