Whether I want it to or not, my phone tracks how many steps I take whenever I carry the device with me. Because I was feeling competitive, I’ve been recording my trips in April and May as part of the CTrides Drive Less Challenge, so they have information on which routes I take when walking to work or which buses I ride when getting groceries.
If someone had reason to pin down my whereabouts, this data could be compared to what may be captured on video at any of the CTfastrak stations or on board CTtransit buses. If I pay for my trip with a Go CT Card there is a record of the time I tapped my card and which bus I rode. There are cameras at many intersections in Hartford already, and in surrounding suburbs too. East Hartford has more than a dozen such surveillance cameras that they’ve installed in the last few years. Any gaps could be filled in by footage captured on residents’ doorbell cameras and businesses’ surveillance cameras. Nobody asked me to sign a consent form. The act of using public space – whether that be public transit or our public roads – is all the consent needed for video of me to be captured.
While it is creepy to think about how a search for me might go if I went missing, the technology is not new, even if folks act like there is any privacy remaining to protect.
Since at least 2001, there have been security cameras on CTtransit buses. These have been used for everything from verifying (or disproving) customer claims of fall injuries, to last summer locating the suspect in a violent crime. In that case, the accused allegedly shot a Manchester mall security guard and fled by bus. Video was used to pin down where the accused exited his getaway vehicle, but also to confirm that earlier in the day he boarded a bus near his home and traveled to the mall. Curiously, there is no record of a single letter to the editor being published by the Hartford Courant from 2000-2020 in which a person or organization expressed concern over the privacy of those using public transportation.
Video from gas station and home security cameras played a role in the more notorious Dulos murder investigation, with footage captured of the suspect and accomplice apparently disposing of evidence in a storm drain; this was later recovered and found to be a license plate belonging to a vehicle the suspect previously owned. There were no letters to the editor of America’s oldest continuously published newspaper showing concern for the privacy of the accused in this case.
Why, then, are people fussing at the mention of automated enforcement? Speeding and blowing through red lights is just as dangerous as aiming a gun at a security guard, and complaining only now about public cameras is like trying to jam the toothpaste back in the tube 20 years after the fact.
Some would suggest that the use of cameras to improve road safety for all is an equity issue, and it is, but not in the way opponents claim. Black and Hispanic pedestrians are killed at a higher rate than white pedestrians, largely because of insufficient infrastructure and by motorists who do not live in the neighborhoods where these fatal collisions are happening. Actually, the fatality rate for Black and Hispanic Americans is higher for all modes – whether in a car, on a bike, or just walking. This is the equity issue we should be uniting to address: that of simply keeping everyone alive on their way home from work and school.
If automated enforcement is effective and reduces pretext traffic stops and can be intentionally installed in areas where data shows a pattern of frequent, serious collisions, why would anyone thwart those efforts? If the only photo taken by these cameras is of the vehicle’s license plate when the motorist breaks the law, as would occur with the passage of HB 5917, what could be the objection? I’ll let you in on one amazing trick that prevents tickets issued by traffic cameras: drive within the speed limit and stop at red lights.