FDOT: I-75 cameras won’t record

dmarsteller@bradenton.comApril 3, 2011 

MANATEE -- Despite county officials’ insistence, the state Department of Transportation will not be allowing cameras on local interstate highways to record.

The main reason: money.

FDOT officials recently outlined their plans to install a network of cameras, sensors and electronic message signs along nearly 60 miles of Interstate 75 in Manatee and Sarasota counties. The proposed Intelligent Transportation System would be used only for real-time traffic monitoring and management, FDOT officials say.

But the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization wants the state to record, saying recorded video footage could be useful in accident and law enforcement investigations. The board unanimously voted to include the recording request in a letter to the agency.

It apparently won’t change FDOT’s position.

With about 1,000 cameras statewide and another 1,000 planned, “the cost to record these 1,000-2,000 cameras on a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week and 365 days a year for a retention period of three years could be substantial,” wrote Elizabeth Birriel, FDOT’s Intelligent Transportation Systems program manager.

“You would also need to include the cost of the personnel you will need to hire to manage the public records requests for the images from accident lawyers across the state,” she wrote.

There’s another reason FDOT doesn’t record, she said: The saved images would “have little to no use to us after the fact” because the cameras are used for real-time traffic monitoring and management.

By not recording, FDOT avoids facing potentially thorny privacy issues, said Rebecca Jeschke, spokeswoman for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy watchdog group in San Francisco.

“What happens when it is subpoenaed in a traffic case?” she said. “What happens if a divorce lawyer wants it? It just creates a lot of questions.”

It’s an area that other state transportation and highway departments have avoided as well. A spot check of highway agencies in nearby states found none that record video images from their highway cameras. “It’s generally not done,” said Emily Fishkin, spokeswoman for ITS America, an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.

It also has been a non-issue for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a spokesman said. “We haven’t done any research on that or tracked that discussion,” said Russ Rader, the research center’s vice president of communications.

FDOT’s resistance to recording drew praise from Howard Simon, the ACLU of Florida’s executive director. “How nice to see a government agency acknowledge that keeping a video record of private citizens going about their private affairs is not an appropriate role for a government video camera,” he said.

Duane Marsteller, Herald staff writer, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2630.

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