Motorists driving into Sugar Land, Tx., may soon turn right into a growing debate between government surveillance and the protection of civil liberties, a sensitive issue cropping up across the nation, says the Houston Chronicle. Sugar Land officials may place 200 surveillance cameras at all entrances to the city as a crime-fighting tool. The American Civil Liberties Union warns that public camera surveillance by law enforcement could be easily abused. The cameras include license plate readers that scan oncoming traffic, focus on the plates, and within two seconds can check the plate against law enforcement databases to see if the vehicle has been reported stolen, is driven by a criminal suspect, or is linked to someone who owes traffic tickets.
“The government has unique powers to kick down your door, put hands on you, and take you to jail,” said Jim Harper of the CATO Institute in Washington, D.C., a think tank that promotes limited government. Harper, a former member of the Department of Homeland Security’s advisory committee on data privacy, said the greatest danger presented by public surveillance footage is it can be amassed digitally and then supplied to other agencies to investigate citizens. “The worst-case scenario is fairly straightforward,” Harper said. “They violate their (data destruction) policy, keep a massive database of the local travels of citizens. They feed that into the local fusion center, which feeds that to the federal government. Now the movements of Sugar Land residents are available to all manner of agencies.”