First of all, St. John’s city council has been getting plenty of heat in response to a recent proposal by one councillor to reconsider whether council positions should be considered a part-time job. Several councillors argue that the public reaction has been unreasonable, given that council hasn’t even agreed to look into the issue.
So keep in mind that this editorial is about something the council is being asked to consider by a private company. All council has agreed to do is to look into using the technology.
Nevertheless, it’s something it should, quite simply, stop in its tracks.
California-based InfinID Technologies met with the city’s police and traffic committee on Feb. 16 to pitch its AutoCop product. To make a long story short, it’s Big Brother in a licence plate renewal sticker.
The company wants to insert a radio frequency identification tag (RFID) into motor vehicle registration stickers. The unique code in the tag would be read by intersection-based readers, and the system would then automatically forward violations of traffic laws to police.
Here’s the way the committee described the product in the minutes: “The information collected from the RFID tag is sent wirelessly to a data server and then forwarded to the appropriate agency. For example, if a car runs a red light at an intersection where there is an RFID reader, the car’s information is collected, via the RFID tag, and forwarded to the local police department so that a ticket can be issued.”
The tracking device isn’t limited to red lights, either. It can be used for the relatively benign purpose of traffic counting, but it can also track parking and speeding infractions.
The company’s officials say they’ve met with both the RNC and the RCMP and “the agencies were very supportive of the company’s efforts, however there are still some concerns regarding privacy implications and necessary changes to existing legislation to accommodate the technology.”
The company claims that its product effectively allows better police presence, and results in a reduction in the number of vehicle collisions. Like red-light and speeding cameras, however, the devices have no judgement about the actual offence — they merely write a ticket that’s almost impossible to fight in court.
We have a problem in this city with bad drivers — with careless, inattentive, sloppy drivers who can’t even figure out the basics of driving, like how to operate a turn signal before slowing for a turn. We also have plenty of avoidable accidents.
But papering city residents with automatically delivered tickets, tickets generated with no recognition of the circumstances involved and regardless of who is actually driving, is hardly the best solution. It might reduce accidents — but while the concept is not mentioned anywhere in the minutes, the real beneficiaries will be the governments that would receive millions of dollars.
It isn’t surprising that similar concepts, like photo radar and red-light cameras, have earned a deep and abiding hatred in the jurisdictions that use them — a hatred, it should be noted, that often extends to the politicians who introduce the concept.
If St. John’s city council feels put upon now over a proposed review of councillors’ duties and remuneration, imagine what enmity an automatic traffic ticket-issuer would produce.
It’s a cash-grab that should be turned down at the earliest opportunity.