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ACLU Sounds Another Warning Against Chicago's Traffic Camera Network

By Chuck Sudo in News on May 7, 2014 3:15PM

Image via NBC Chicago screen grab.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois has sounded another privacy invasion warning regarding Chicago’s network of red-light and speed cameras now that the former is being upgraded so that cameras will have 360-degree surveillance capabilities.

The red-light camera network is being equipped to use radar technology by its new contractor, Xerox State & Local Solutions, Inc., which will give cameras in the network the ability to pan in all directions looking for traffic violations. ACLU senior attorney Adam Schwartz is asking the Chicago Police Department to only use that 360-degree viewing capability to track individuals only where there’s “suspicion of criminal activity.”

Per the Sun-Times:

“There is a mission creep. These cameras that were put up for the purpose of traffic enforcement now have 360-capability, which is not part of traffic enforcement, but is for other purposes,” he said. “Where we go says a lot about who we are. Whether we’re going to the union meeting, to see a criminal defense lawyer or to worship, we need safeguards to ensure that the government isn’t using these ever-expanding camera systems to monitor what people are doing.”

The ACLU has been concerned about the legality of the traffic cameras, how the cameras encroach on the privacy of citizens ever since they discovered years ago that Redflex Traffic Solutions, the company that previously managed the network, allowed the Police Department to view live video and recordings from cameras for law-enforcement purposes. But Redflex didn’t use radar technology granting 360-degree viewing of an area. Xerox has fully upgraded 230 of the city’s 352 red-light cameras to radar technology. Those cameras allow police to view live video but they so far are not recorded. The city is lobbying Xerox to change its policy.

The ACLU released a report in 2012 that found less than 1 percent of arrests from 2006 through May 2010 were assisted by camera surveillance. CPD spokesman Adam Collins said the department isn’t violating residents’ civil liberties with the surveillance and “all cameras are used for legitimate law-enforcement purposes and investigation.”