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Who’s watching you?

Andy Ouriel • Sep 19, 2013 at 11:01 AM

These cameras supposedly can’t record videos nor snap pictures.

But many driving by a few Erie County intersections still worry about someone capturing and storing information about their whereabouts or movement.

Government officials installed at least 26 traffic monitoring cameras tracking vehicular activity at various area intersections, according to local and state data the Register obtained through a public records request.

The cameras hoisted high above certain intersections serve two main purposes:

• Detect when cars stop at intersections, as opposed to in-pavement sensors.

• Transmit data so signal lights can change from red to green. 

“The cameras and their hardware do not have the capability to either record or store video or images,” Erie County project engineer Matt Rogers said.

Rogers referenced the 23 cameras maintained by county officials spread out between four intersections in Perkins Township.

Local taxpayers, meanwhile, spent almost $84,000 on these devices, all of which were installed within the past six years.

Even if the cameras could record video or take pictures, they’re not sophisticated enough to clearly register faces or capture other sensitive information, Rogers said.

“When we have contractors hooking up and configuring cameras during construction, the resolution is fairly low, enough to view cars but not sharp enough to discern faces, read license plates and the like,” Rogers said.

State transportation officials, who installed three cameras in Erie County, also debunked any speculation about their traffic monitoring cameras filming drivers.    “They do not have recording capabilities,” state transportation spokeswoman Christine Myers said.

A camera hoisted atop the Edison Memorial Bridge, technically located on Ottawa County’s side, does record traffic on the bridge. Anyone can watch the video at www.ohgo.com  .

Local and state officials said red-light or speed-detection cameras don’t exist in Erie County.

Candid opinions

Seeking input from readers, the Register asked people on Facebook about their opinions on these cameras. Some seemed OK with it.

I’m “not worried at all because I have a clean driving record,” Sean Ramsey wrote. “Go the speed limit and don’t do stupid stuff and no one should have an issue.”

Others wrote the cameras are masquerading as spying machines, secretly intruding into their private lives.

“Anyone that fully trusts what they are told by the local government is delusional,” Ed Liphart wrote.

Security invasion

Concern from Americans about government officials spying on them peaked to an all-time high this summer.

Their worries stem from a leaker revealing the National Security Agency gathers millions of telephone records and intercepts countless email messages from presumably innocent Americans unaffiliated with terrorism.

Lawmakers on both sides continue to bicker on the agency’s importance to national security.

In early August, U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, voted for an amendment to cut off agency funding so officials couldn’t collect telephone records on every American. Jordan represents southern Erie County and portions of Huron and Sandusky counties.

But U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo, voted against the same amendment.

The attempt to cut off funding failed narrowly in a U.S. House of Representatives vote.

Kaptur said she favors civil liberties but wanted a more deliberative process for reforming the National Security Agency.

But anyone supporting civil liberties — including politicians, officials and citizens — should become or stay cautious about traffic monitoring cameras, argues Gary Daniels, a Columbus-based American Civil Liberties Union spokesman.

“We will always remain concerned about their use and misuse,” Daniels said.

“Americans are getting assaulted from all sides, including their rights to privacy. Technology is making our lives much less private.”

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