Justice and Due Process

PhotoCop? Warning: Constitution Questions May Be Larger Than They Appear

The Deseret News recently published an opinion piece advocating for the legalization of PhotoCop devices in Utah—cameras to automatically record and punish violators of the law. The author claims that these devices would help with traffic enforcement, thereby reducing the amount of collisions and injuries that take place on Utah roads. Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, we must recognize the significant amount of legal issues that come with such a policy change.

Red-light cameras and other devices that use photo radar to send automatic tickets to drivers in Utah are by no means a new concept. These types of devices were deliberately banned by the Utah Legislature back in 1996. Understanding why they were banned reveals why we should keep the prohibition in place.

The Sixth Amendment protects our right “to be confronted with the witnesses against [us].” Can a machine properly be considered a witness? Then comes the question of identifying the actual person who has committed the traffic infraction. License-plate readers may be able to identify the specific vehicle, but can they identify the driver? Will a ticket be sent to the owner of the vehicle or to the person operating the vehicle?

And if these cameras are attempting to identify the driver, does that mean we are going to turn to facial recognition software to then run through Utah’s drivers license database in a mass search for the alleged violator? Utah has had ongoing controversy regarding the use of this technology, and if Utah decides to go the direction of photo radar devices, this issue may likely rear its head as well. One technological intrusion begets another.

In the end, Utah needs to be extremely cautious about moving forward with proposals to reverse the ban on PhotoCop devices. It isn’t something to be taken lightly, no matter how much well-meaning advocates say that it will reduce traffic incidents. All consequences must be considered, otherwise the rights of Utahns will be put at serious risk.