First, we have to understand what anyone would mean by the term invasion of privacy. This term can mean the violation of ones right or the intrusion in to a person’s private life without their consent. This can be through physical intrusion or through surveillance using cameras (Elvik & Hoye, 2009). The surveillance cameras could be hidden or made public in that the person becomes aware of the absence of privacy in advance or the person is not aware of the absence of privacy, but learns about it later. This brings in the case of usage of traffic lights and cameras on the roads. There are different views on this, since some people conceive the cameras as an invasion to their privacy, while others view them as purely for security on the streets and roads (Mathieu, 2008).This essay tries to argue out whether the traffic lights and cameras are really a privacy concern or a road safety and security measure in towns and cities.
Traffic Lights and Cameras
Looking at the question with an open mind, one perceives both arguments as rational. First, the idea of being watched every time by a systematized and centralized people with power and a large degree of control over your life sends chills over ones body and sounds more scary than being watched by disorganized people on the street. This means that no one can ever be comfortable with the cameras everywhere on the streets. Disturbing news as they may sound, the public street lights may have the ability to record conversations followed by the ability to broadcast government warnings and put across advertisements about all security issues (Mathieu, 2008). To the lighter side, the cameras can undertake x-rays in search for concealed weapons. Privacy infringement is obvious with the camera’s ability to record, monitor and display almost everything they feel like.
On the other hand, the increase of guard rails and road signs cluttering all over the streets have different intentions and aims and have no intention of invading privacy at all. In short, the traffic lights are not about privacy since no individual in their right mind with a legal and valid license will be expecting privacy on a public street. Some of the intentions of the street lights are to segregate the pedestrians from the vehicles, thus provides a degree of safety to the pedestrians (Mohan, Tiwari, & Khayesi, 2006). The traffic lights and cameras serve as monitors against those drivers who mind the presence of others on the streets and, therefore, ensure a level of safety on the streets (Elvik & Hoye, 2009). However, the necessity of this comes at an expense; the loss of privacy on the streets for those individuals who would prefer it. Although it is important to monitor traffic through the traffic cameras and lights, the concern erupts when the use is extended to streets in residential areas. It is logical to understand that the residential streets tend to have a higher level of crime than other areas in towns and cities. The attempt to reduce the crime levels in these areas brings about the privacy intrusion concerns. The reason for this is that the security departments try to install security cameras and lights on the streets, but end up violating the fundamental right and need of being left alone. The cameras penetrate to residential areas and homes to the concern of many as they feel watched in all aspects.
According to Smith & Pack (2002), most of the cameras are installed in high crime areas. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) confirms that some of them are so powerful to the extent of being zoomed to reading a book and have the ability of tracking and locating people and vehicles out of range of one camera as well as searching particular images from a distance. Basically, this is advanced levels of security enhancement but at the same time, the feeling of privacy is definitely eluded. If a security camera can be zoomed to reading a page in a text book in a residential area, then one will be aware of the fact that there is nothing like privacy in that area, as the camera can view everything else that one does. All conversations in residential areas and streets with the cameras are viewed, analyzed and recorded for security scrutiny (Mathieu, 2008). This is a total infringement of personal privacy, but absolutely necessary for security purposes.
Considering other options through which the police can use to administer security on the streets rather that simply use street lights and high resolution surveillance cameras, the odds are that they are very cost effective and they have no intention of privacy intrusion. Today, most streets are not left naked like it was in the past. This is a prudent step to ensuring our public security, by applying the appropriate measures to guarantee conformity to road traffic safety and protection regulations. The presence of the street lights and cameras enhances a degree of freedom and security to individuals and pedestrians who feel they now have freedom of movement. This freedom of movement motivates every individual to fit in place with each other so as to avoid one user group having an automatic priority or advantage over the other (Mohan, Tiwari & Khayesi, 2006). Consequently, as much as streets without camera surveillance have some privacy, safety of human life is enhanced by cameras on this streets that act as a deterrent to potential criminal acts. Who needs privacy without security anyway? Privacy is very important, but security is more important and as much as the cameras and street lights infringe personal privacy, they enhance personal security especially in crime hot zones.
The cameras snap breaches of the traffic regulations aiming at vehicle tags and in some cases and regions drivers. The red light camera does not employ watch cameras to randomly record everything in view on the streets or around the streets. This fact confirms that they at least consider privacy. But does anyone need privacy on the streets? Conversely, availability of traffic lights and cameras thereof brings up a way of controlling the traffic flow at the intersections. This helps to eliminate conflict flanked by flowing traffic in opposing routes that would instead compel the vehicles to negotiate a protected passage across an intersection, in turn protecting both human lives and any possible destruction of property that could arise from complacence. Considering this importance of the traffic lights, privacy is totally out of place and therefore, it can never be about it, but rather about road safety. Privacy is not necessary on streets which are public. Traffic lights provide some order especially in the big and mostly intersected highways where there is heavy traffic movement, and raises the question of whether we really need traffic lights and cameras in our streets to have human order (Svantesson, 2007). The cameras simply monitor the movements of the vehicles and pedestrians to pinpoint possible collusions and collisions. This acts as a preventive measure to the occurrences of accidents and to improve disaster response rate by the security agencies, to ensure that the victims are saved in case of collisions.
Individuals who care about public safety would support the use of traffic lights and cameras to keep vigil of activities in the street. This raises the debate on whether ‘public safety’ should be protected at the expense of privacy. This is an issue that is yet to receive human consensus, with the two groups of pro safety and pro privacy pulling facts on their respective sides. The group supporting public safety consider street lights and cameras to be very essential is driving out the law breakers from the streets and residential places and accuse those supporting privacy as harboring ill motives. On the other hand, the pro-privacy groups argue that they have a right to their private life free from public scrutiny including government law enforcers.
It is however acceptable that in addressing the concerns of road users, having traffic lights to assist regulate both the volume and traffic capacity in city roads and major corridors is not only effective but is also necessary. Most governments in the process of providing security to citizens have today deployed lights and cameras in the streets (Mohan, Tiwari & Khayesi, 2006). By doing so, citizens are protected from avoidable road accidents and other roadside crimes like hijackings, especially on roads with most incidences of accidents, with equal protection provided against other criminal acts like robbery for the sole reason that potential criminals would not dare commit these unlawful acts under the watchful eyes of the cameras. We have to admit that the rate of crime is high in areas without security cameras and with high levels of privacy. In short, if privacy is prioritized, security is compromised and if one has to chose one side, security will be chosen. Traffic cameras in most cases help detect individual drivers who are reckless and are likely to cause accidents while at the same time providing useful information to prosecuting authorities in case criminal acts are committed within the view of these cameras. The cameras are set in a way that no photographing takes place without a violation of the street and road laws. They are triggered by rule violations and they do not go off when people need privacy. No one needs privacy in violation of the road laws (John, 2011).
The road has sensors embedded and when a driver enters a section against the light, they get photographed as they trigger the cameras. John (2011) writes that in the same way, drivers speeding beyond specified limits trigger the speed cameras to photograph them. In brief, without the cameras and street lights, there would be gross law violation on the roads leading to multiplication of accidents. The concerns of privacy in application of the laws is very minor, since as pointed out earlier, public streets do not need to have privacy, but need to be monitored. This in turn ensures easy prosecution of offenders and getting rid of serial offenders from the society.
To avoid the use of traffic cameras for the sake of privacy, the society must start by committing to being better road users. This can only be done by first ensuring that individuals who use these roads are fair enough to themselves especially to their lives, and those of other citizens. The traffic cameras’ job of aiding a regulation mechanism for excessive speeds on the part of motorists would then be eliminated and that would be an important first step to getting rid of the gadgets from these streets entirely (Damjanoviski, 2005).
Since individuals would not like it when their reckless driving turns into injuries and possible deaths, it is important to have it as part of the societal way of life that simple traffic rules are respected for the larger good of privacy, a dream that has for the longest time been a mirage. One of the most ‘camera infested’ countries in the world is the UK, with almost every street in major towns under surveillance. Several United Kingdom research studies have consistently shown that cameras are very effective in saving lives, rather than having the traffic police officers doing their daily traffic control duties. This is besides the fact that several useful footages are recorded for non traffic related offences (Svantesson, 2007).
Consider an example where a citizen is to make an emergency call, and then the security system at the police identifies the caller’s location followed by instant monitoring of the place on the nearest camera for the recent activities. This allows tracing the crime in the region and possible arrest of the culprits. From one side, this is superb, but from the other, the fact that the system identifies the caller location means that every other time with or without the call, the people in the area are photographed and scrutinized (John, 2011). This infringes the privacy and goes against the eighth amendment on the bill of rights (Bill of Rights Transcript Text, 1789). It actually sounds like a government tactic to control all the human aspects through use of surveillance cameras. In the end, the society might end up getting trailed, analyzed, with profiling and flagging their daily lives to unimaginable degree. This fact is a serious concern with the continuous erection of the surveillance cameras on the streets throughout the cities and towns. The cameras base on city streets, public ways, the alleys, street sidewalks and open park spaces. That sums up the dark side of the cameras.
Consider alleys without the cameras and lights and imagine the kind of crime that would be expected (Mathieu, 2008). As much as we cry for privacy, there are areas that need the cameras for security purposes. The security watch-units can explore other options that would spare the concerns of privacy from the public in continuing to administer security. Considering the fact that the persons watching the cameras and scrutinizing them undergo training makes the protocol strict focusing only on the necessities which are public safety and traffic (Traffic Management Center: Rhodeways). While some believe that the cameras and traffic lights have considerably reduced crime and traffic rules flaws in areas where they are installed, some people whom can be referred as pessimists argue that the equipment pushes the crime to other areas. Their arguments simply endorse spreading of the systems to areas where they are not installed. In other words, they are arguing that crime takes place in areas where there are no cameras and there is adequate privacy. In essence, one can argue along with them that the need for privacy is an endorsement for crime and traffic law breaking.
There is no possibility of eliminating the street lights and cameras just for the purpose of privacy. Damjanoviski (2005) argues that many countries and societies have gone beyond self centered privacy outcry to embrace the technology which is fail proof in combating crime and traffic law breaking. In short, the concern that the cameras and street lights are an invasion of privacy comes from people who are either self centered of with criminal intends. Despite the fact that most of the roads and highways are equipped with the traffic lights and traffic cameras such as the CCTVs (Catalano, 2011), there is still a need to know how to go about these equipments so as to avoid accidents in our roads (Amanzholov, 2008). In case the call for privacy was to be heeding, prior education and public awareness on how to behave on the roads, either by drivers or pedestrians is necessary. This can also help in reducing the level of illiteracy to the people who use the public street daily, since they will be able to know how to go about traffic lights and how to drive safely. This will also help civilians to avoid crime prone areas. Road accidents could be avoided to a large extend by being careful and to enforce this to the drivers, the traffic lights and cameras come in handy.
Catalano (2011) writes that crime prone areas in cities are normally in alleys, sideways and park zones. If patrol police were to monitor them, citizens would still complain of the fail because they would not be in position to tell all the crimes that get committed. This is why the cameras and street lights serve important roles in monitoring. It is however, important to nurture ourselves to proper traffic rules and regulations that would help in reducing crime as well as maintaining high levels of safety in our roads and public places. This would have stopped the necessity of the traffic lights and cameras in the first place. By doing this, it will come out clearly that the essence of having our beautiful street around, will sound pleasant only if it is secure for all citizens. Consequently, if various measures are put in place to secure the streets from dangerous criminal activities and accidents, then all would be protecting the streets thus making an ample atmosphere for human living both locally and globally. Privacy takes the second place in comparison to safety in the community.