“Smile, you’re on Candid Camera”

Our daughter just called from northern CA to advise me that the Marin County city of Tiburon, located just over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, has decided to photograph every vehicle entering this quaint little tourist town. Tiburon, with a population of 8,700, has only two access roads. Apparently the justification for this action is related to an effort to reduce crime.

We are about to open Pandora’s box. Any city in the country will look at the outcome of this pending extreme city council action where the privacy of the motorists is being violated under the guise of public safety. I can picture it now. You are driving on public streets that we maintain. We therefore reserve the right to take your photo and license plate data even if you are an innocent visitor or resident. Tiburon today, Santa Ana & Anaheim tomorrow.

Following is part of today’s Sac Bee coverage:

Associated Press Writer

“As long as you don’t arrive in a stolen vehicle or go on a crime spree while you’re here, your anonymity will be preserved,” said Town Manager Peggy Curran. “We don’t care who you are and we don’t know who you are.”

Cameras are already watching Americans as they drive, bank and shop, and police around the country routinely use cameras to enforce speeding and traffic violations and spot stolen cars.

Melissa Ngo, a privacy rights attorney and consultant who publishes privacylives.com, said she is not aware of a situation where a town is keeping a record of all visitors.

“The point is we live in a land where people are considered innocent until proven guilty,” Ngo said. “Not a land where it’s supposed to be – prove that you’re not doing anything wrong by letting us watch you do everything.”

Walking his dogs along Tiburon’s stunning waterfront on a recent sunny morning, Bill McDougal, who lives in nearby Sausalito, was not enthusiastic about the license plate plan. “It’s one more step to Big Brother,” he said.

But Brooke Togmazzini, owner of a wine tasting room near the waterfront, said that while she initially had qualms about the system, she has become convinced there are enough safeguards in place to make it nothing more than a useful investigative tool.

Curran believes the proposal, expected to go before the Town Council for final approval within a few months, has been misunderstood.

If they go forward, officials intend to set clear limitations on how the license plate database can be used. For instance, they said the system will not be used for traffic enforcement, and the data will not be public record – no trying to find out if a spouse has been wandering.

The way the system would work is still cameras set up at town entry points will take a photograph of license plates – but not drivers. License plate numbers collected would be erased within 30 to 60 days and would not be viewed unless there is a crime to solve.

Officers would search for plates of vehicles in town at the time of the crime that are connected to someone with a criminal history. Any hits would be used as leads.

“There’d be just none of the real-time monitoring that people worry about or that we’re somehow wanting to be unfriendly or discourage visitors in any way,” Curran said.

Civil liberties groups have concerns about the data being collected on Americans.

A 2007 study by California affiliates of the American Civil Liberties Union of 131 jurisdictions found that 37 cities in the state had some type of video surveillance program and 18 cities had significant surveillance of public streets and plazas.

Lee Tien, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, appreciates Tiburon officials’ efforts to limit the use of the license plate database.

But he is still not sold on the idea.

“The logic is always, well, wait a minute. If you keep pushing this, then that means we should track everyone just because some people might be bad guys. That’s not the way I think America is supposed to be.”

To read the entire Sac Bee story go to the following link:


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