RE: law enforcement for profit

From: Billy Brown (
Date: Thu May 04 2000 - 16:03:23 MDT

Ross A. Finlayson wrote:
> One problem here is that it is hard to determine who to target as
perpetrator of
> these kinds of erosions of freedom.
> For example, in this red-light camera situation, it is obvious that
> Martin, privately making money off some kind of law enforcement, is
somewhat to
> blame for advancing this violation not only of privacy but of the
> which states quite bluntly that citizens are innocent by default.

How, exactly, is putting up a camera at an intersection a violation of
Constitutional rights? The presumption of innocence does not imply that the
State can't watch you to see if you do something illegal - if it did, police
would not be able to patrol the streets giving out traffic tickets. So long
as the normal standards of evidence are observed in court (i.e. they have to
show that it was you, not just someone with your license plate number), no
rights have been violated.

Likewise, there is no general right to privacy in public places. In practice
such a 'right' would be both nonsensical and coercive, since it would amount
to a demand that no one be able to look at you when you walk down the

No, I'm afraid that if we want to turn this into a rights issue, we'll have
to campaign for a Constitutional amendment forbidding government

> Anyways, I say this before, it seems quite obvious, any automated
> law-enforcement like a red-light runner camera is a violation of every
> who passes through that intersection's right to presupposed innocence
under the
> Constitution.

In theory there is no legal difference between automated and non-automated
law enforcement. If a cop can sit at an intersection and watch for traffic
violations (a perfectly reasonable activity), he can put up a camera to do
it for him. In practice the automated systems are actually held to a higher
standard than human police - if a traffic cop says he saw you break the law
the courts will usually take his word for it, but an automated system has to
collect enough evidence to convince the court that there is no reasonable
possibility of error (usually your picture, a picture of your license plate,
and an instrument reading showing your violation, all time stamped and
recorded by a tamper-resistant system).

> Mr. Brown, you state that you think that it is not easy to require the
> government to not monitor its citizens. Well, its bad enough now and that
> why we need proactive measures and law to protect the citizenry's explicit
> to presupposed innocence. It's in some ways as simple as suing the
> to prevent them from doing so.

Unfortunately, as I pointed out above, you don't have any grounds to sue
them. You might be able to trump up some strained interpretation of an
implied right to privacy, or something equally iffy, but that's about it.
IMO such lawsuits are inherently harmful no matter what the cause is - if
you think we should have a right that isn't clearly recognized by the
Constitution, the proper course of action is to work to get an amendment

Now, personally, I don't worry too much about this kind of observation. Even
if we end up with cameras everywhere, the results are not especially bad.
The danger is that they will want to expand the system to cover private
property and/or internet activity. However, I think that it not too hard to
draw a distinction between public and private spaces, and to forbid
government surveillance of the latter.

Mind you, we will still have to come to terms with the fact that in 10 years
everyone is going to be able to inconspicuously record everything that
happens in their presence, whether you want them to or not.

Billy Brown

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