Some Longboaters worry that 2013 is starting to feel a lot like 1984.
Within the next month or two, the Key will get license-plate recognition cameras.
Police say they’ll never see the vast majority of the data the cameras collect; they’ll receive notification if there’s a stolen vehicle or if a driver has a warrant, is a sexual predator or has a suspended license or tag violation.
But some residents think the cameras amount to Big Brother watching the Key — concerns they say are heightened because of recent reports of expanded government surveillance.
Evans Tills quotes the oft-paraphrased adage attributed to Benjamin Franklin when he explains his opposition to the cameras:
“Those that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
“There comes a tipping point,” Tills said. “I think by putting up cameras unnecessarily, they might nab one or two violators of something or other, but just to have it there willy-nilly, I think is a mistake.”
Ross Alander worries about the potential for abuses.
He doesn’t have a problem with red-light cameras at intersections or surveillance cameras at large events. But he thinks they might be used to profile drivers or catch drivers with a tag that’s expired by a month or two instead of criminals. He worries about the possibility of a hacker accessing data.
“I’ve never bought into the argument that if you have nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to worry about,” Alander said.
But Longboat Key Police Chief Pete Cumming insists the cameras don’t amount to Big Brother.
For one thing, they won’t amass a giant record of every car coming onto and leaving the island. They’ll be stored for one year, but police won’t see them unless they’re part of an investigation.
“We couldn’t profile even if we wanted to, because the camera doesn’t show us every car that comes over the bridge,” Cumming said.
The police chief said the data collected will be treated as criminal evidence and will have the same level of security used for any major criminal case. Technically, officers could access the same data by entering tag numbers of vehicles entering the Key.
“This is for the sole purpose of increasing security,” Cumming said. “We’re not targeting people, we’re not generating revenue. It’s specifically to help reduce crime and offer a public service.”
Tills, however, worries about what safeguards will be in place to prevent misuse.
“I think you’re entitled to lead your life without people knowing everything,” he said.