Sticking It To The (Camera) Man: Inventor Develops License Plate Frame That Defeats Red Light Cameras (Techdirt)
Thursday October 25th, 2012
Tech is all about disruption. When a problem presents itself, someone will find a way to route around it. Red light cameras, the controversial jackpot generators favored by certain law enforcement agencies, are the problem. The solution?
Jonathan Dandrow has developed noPhoto, which renders the pix snapped by those revenue-generating robo-cams useless. The technology behind noPhoto is fairly simple. At the top of the gadget, which doubles as a license plate frame, there’s an optical flash trigger that detects the flash of the traffic-light camera. That trigger sets off one or both xenon flashes in the sides of the noPhoto, so when the traffic-light camera opens its shutter, there’s too much light and the picture of your license plate is overexposed. Big Brother can’t read your plate. Some will argue that technology like this will only be used by scofflaws wishing to run red lights. But as the inventor points out, there's plenty of shady activity on the other side of the camera, not the least of which is some more erosion of civil liberties.
“I just had a lot of reservations about the cameras,” Dandrow says. “They are trying to circumvent the constitution.” This isn't just an overreaction from minor league anarchists. Once the camera has "decided" you're guilty, that's it. Arguing your innocence is next to impossible. Case in point: this woman's ordeal with being falsely accused by a red light camera.
As Gary Biller, the president of the National Motorists Association, recently wrote in U.S. News and World Report, traffic-light cameras violate “several key tenets of a citizen’s due process rights,” because there is “no certifiable witness to the alleged violation,” and so therefore, “the defendant loses the right to cross-examine his accuser in court.”
The New Star-Ledger’s Bamboozled column has the story of a woman whose license was suspended by authorities in New Jersey for a red-light ticket, even though the car in the photo is clearly not hers — oh, and she hadn’t even been in the Garden State in more than a year when the violation occurred. Despite having moved from New Jersey to Colorado 18 months before being ticketed, she still had to jump through a ridiculous number of hoops to clear her record and get her suspended license back. Starting with the city staff in Edison Township calling her a liar and a long game of paperwork tennis between the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission and the township, it finally reached the point where the driver realized it would be easier to pay the fees than travel 1800 miles for a court date. Appealing the ticket runs $75 plus fees and a personal appearance. The final breakdown? $200 to restore her license plus $81 for the ticket and $33 in court costs. $314 to clear a ticket issued to the wrong person.
Despite the obvious flaws in the "camera-as-cop" system, there's a very good chance Dandrow's noPhoto will be forced off the market before too long. There's already a law against obscured license plates. But will that hold when the license plate is only obscured when being photographed? The other angle will likely be "concern" about "safety," as if this bit of civil disobedience will lead to rampant red-light running. Will some people ignore red lights if they have this equipped? Sure, but I doubt they'll use it to drive through heavily-trafficked intersections against the lights. This will most likely result in a few more "California stops" at quiet intersections. If the cops don't like this, maybe they should consider the example they set when they flip the light bar on momentarily to blow through traffic signals.
If this disruption hastens the demise of the rightfully-maligned red light camera, so much the better. The cameras, which some municipalities adore for their money-making ability, have been linked to increased accidents and shady law enforcement activity, like issuing tickets signed by a deceased patrolman, lowering the yellow light time to increase the chance of violations, and lying about the length of a red light to hide the fact a bogus ticket had been issued. Fighting back against technology being used badly for lousy ends with a simple, effective solution is the best kind of disruption.