RED LIGHT CAMERAS
If you haven't already done so, please read the Home Page
New 6-11-03, updated 9-14-05:
The provision for continued confidentiality of the photos, and the new requirement for destruction of the photos, will make it much more difficult for the media, a citizens' group, or a website editor, to expose improperly-run camera systems - and could limit the reversal of improperly-issued tickets to those less than 6* months old.
*Note added 7-8-05: During the 2004 legislative session (after AB 1022 became law) Assemblywoman Jenny Oropeza, the author of AB 1022, introduced AB 517 in an attempt to change the 6-month period to 13 months. Evidently she had realized that the 6-month period was too short. But AB 517 was vetoed by the new governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. In a July 7, 2005 article (Political Clout Pulls in Cash, by Robert Salladay) the LA Times suggested that Gov. Schwarzenegger's veto decision was influenced by heavy campaign contributions from ACS, one of the leaders in the red light camera industry.
Had it not been vetoed, AB 517 also would have corrected a typo. 21455.5(f) says "notwithstanding subdivision (d)" when it should say "(e)". If you look at the successive amendments to AB 1022, you can see where the error occurred. The typo eventually was corrected - seven (7) years later - by SB 1330 of 2010.
The auto club co-wrote (with Assemblywoman Oropeza) Assembly Bill 1022, and is the sponsor. The California State Sheriff's Association is a registered supporter. The auto club's Sacramento lobbyist explained that they based the bill upon recommendations found in the July 2002 report by the California State Auditor.
The auditor's 110-page report is available at:
The auditor's report discusses confidentiality at pages 13, and 21 - 23.
Here are some excerpts from those pages, and my comments on them.
Auditor's report, page 13, near bottom:
"Local governments also have differing interpretations of the confidentiality of the photographs taken by red light cameras. Six of the seven local governments in our sample acknowledged that they have used or would use the photographs for purposes other than enforcing red light violations, such as investigating unrelated crimes. According to our legal counsel, a literal reading of the statute prohibits use of the photographs for purposes other than to prosecute motorists for running red lights. However, some jurisdictions believe that other laws, as well as the California Constitution, would permit the use of red light photographs as evidence in a criminal prosecution."
My comment on the above excerpt:
I believe that the "some jurisdictions" mentioned in the last sentence above are correct. The Truth in Evidence provision of the California Constitution says:
"Right to Truth-in-Evidence. Except as provided by statute hereafter enacted by a two-thirds vote of the membership in each house of the Legislature, relevant evidence shall not be excluded in any criminal proceeding...."
We passed Truth in Evidence (Prop. 8 of 1982) because few of us would want a murderer to go free because the only evidence against him was in a "confidential" red light camera photo.
(More about Truth in Evidence is on this page.)
On the other hand, fewer of us would want these red light camera photos to be used to fill our mailbox with citations for 5 miles over the limit, tailgating, driving too slowly, using a hand-held cell phone, no seat belt, headlights not on, broken taillights, missing registration sticker, etc.
The present bill which attempts to provide "blanket" confidentiality for all purposes, could actually have the following result:
In a major criminal trial, the ticket photos could still be used (Truth in Evidence would prevail),
in a minor criminal matter (tailgating, cell phones, etc.) the ticket photos could still be used (Truth in Evidence),
and in a civil action or investigation to get refunds for tickets, the photos would be confidential (Truth in Evidence applies only to criminal matters).
If the auto club's true motive was to protect the motoring public from harassing minor criminal citations, they should have written a bill that:
(1) included a prohibition of the use of the photos as evidence in unrelated minor criminal matters,
(2) did not include any other prohibition of the use of the photos, such as in other (major) criminal matters, or civil matters,
(3) included a provision that the bill must pass with the 2/3 vote required by Prop. 8.
Auditor's report, page 21:
"Our review found at least two instances where vendors misused photographs taken by red light cameras. In one instance, a photograph that showed a bicyclist being struck by a vehicle in San Francisco was posted in the hallway of the San Diego Police Department. When we questioned the San Francisco program manager about this photograph, he was unaware that San Diego was displaying it. He then investigated and found that the vendor had not only released the information to the San Diego Police Department but also allowed a news reporter to see the photograph. Subsequently, San Francisco notified the vendor that it had breached the contract based on the provision in the red light camera law requiring the confidentiality of all photographs. San Francisco assessed the vendor a penalty of $10,000 for the two violations and directed the vendor to cure the breach by retrieving all photographs it or its subcontractor had similarly misused. Additionally, San Francisco indicated that it would terminate the contract if the vendor failed to deliver these photographs to the program manager within 30 days or if the vendor made public any photographs in the future. San Francisco's actions seem appropriate and were aided by having a well-written contract.
"In another instance, a vendor's manual for an August 2000 training session contained both photographs and personal data of motorists running red lights taken by a red light camera in Los Angeles. Attending this session were staff from localities outside the county. Although a county engineer indicates he was not aware that the vendor had used these photographs in the training manual, he believes that the law does not prohibit their use for training because only staff from other local governments attend the training sessions. Nevertheless, the unauthorized use of motorists' photographs, names, and addresses could be construed as a violation of the legal requirement to keep this information confidential. In addition, none of the pages in the training manual were marked as confidential. We do not believe that it is necessary to include motorists' photographs, names, and addresses on citations used to illustrate training manuals and distributed to attendees of the training. Unlike San Francisco's contract, the Los Angeles contract does not have a strongly written provision to require the vendor to keep motorists' photographs and personal data confidential."
As a motorist whose photo has been taken by a red light camera, I am not very concerned that my photo might be used in a training manual, or posted on the wall in the San Diego Police Department. I think that after the $10,000 penalty levied by San Francisco, vendors will not need new legislation to make them much more careful with the photos. The public should be much more concerned that the veil of secrecy perpetuated and expanded by AB 1022 will make it more likely that cities that rig their camera systems will be able to get away with it.
Auditor's report, page 23:
"Our review indicated that vendors often retain the data for an unspecified period, usually from 3 to 5 years, but do not indicate why such a long retention period is necessary. Specifically, vendors are retaining a significant number of photographs well beyond the time their legitimate use has ended. For example, San Francisco was unable to identify the motorist involved in the previously mentioned photograph of a bicyclist being struck by a vehicle, indicating the citation was not enforced. Had it been instructed to promptly destroy all data relating to unenforced violations, the vendor might not have misused this photograph. It is therefore important to destroy this data as soon as it is no longer needed."
The fact that on one occasion a vendor passed an old photo to another city's police department, doesn't justify the premature shredding of all records, Enron-style. If the auto club is sincerely concerned that a vendor will again distribute an old photo despite the risk of a $10,000 penalty, a more appropriate law would provide that the vendor shall hand its old records over to the client city for safekeeping by the police department's records supervisor. Police records departments house large quantities of all kinds of sensitive records and have, in general, a good record of keeping them from being passed around the State. The law should also provide that the records not be destroyed any sooner than other criminal records retained by the police - that retention period typically being a number of years, not a number of months.