Honolulu Lite


Sunday, July 8, 2001

Law Enforcement Inc. is
next big private industry

Let's get something straight. I don't run red lights. I may run "rellow" lights. I may even run "yed" lights. But I don't run red lights.

But there are a lot of people who do. There are also a lot of people who -- cover the ears of the young and infirm -- speed. Yes, it's true. And there's money in them thar lawbreakers.

A private company is preparing to mine that vein of gold. Lockheed Martin, a company normally associated with making things like jets go as fast as they possibly can, is coming to Hawaii to slow things down. The company will operate state-of-the-art snoop cameras at intersections and along highways to take photos of cars running red lights and speeding.

The owners of the offending vehicles will be sent tickets in the mail.

On the surface, it seems to be an efficient system to augment police traffic enforcement. Just below the surface, it feels icky, hints at technology run amok and provides us with a glance into the future where, smile, we're constantly on some candid camera or another and privacy will be a concept as quaint as horse-drawn carriages and Nintendo 64.

We are rapidly becoming a country where the end justifies the means, especially if the end is personal safety and protection from loss of life.

If a certain "police state" atmosphere has to be established to keep people from scooting through intersections after the light has turned red, then so be it. If the majority of us have to be under photographic surveillance from the moment we pull onto the H-1 freeway in order to keep a few kids from killing themselves drag racing, then so be it. The privacy -- or at least the lack of continual digital and video scrutiny -- of the many is not as important as keeping a couple of speeding knuckleheads from terminal road rash.

I talked to a couple of outspoken defense attorneys about this kind of remote law enforcement and was kind of surprised that they were not foaming at the mouth over the growing technological intrusion in our lives. The thing is, they are as tired of the idiots who run red lights and race in and out of traffic as much as the rest of us.

But one questioned whether we really want everyone to go the speed limit.

"The problem is not speeding, it's racing," David Bettencourt told me. "We rely on people breaking the speed limit to keep traffic moving. If we forced everyone to actually obey the speed limit, the island would come to a grinding halt in one hour."

As I've said before, I wonder about the precedent of letting private businesses get involved in law enforcement.

Giving Lockheed Martin a contract in which it will get a cut of all the fines reaped from tickets it issued is like a government granting a "letter of marque" to the private sailing ships of old. Lockheed Martin becomes a privateer, collecting a prize for each conquest. But instead of unleashing a broadside of cannon on the enemy of the state, it simply snaps a computer picture.

It looks like a profitable gig. Perhaps I'm just jealous. If I start filming jaywalkers with my camcorder, maybe I can convince the government to give me a cut of proceeds. I want my share of this brave new world.

Alo-Ha! Friday compiles odd bits of news from Hawaii
and the world to get your weekend off to an entertaining start.
Charles Memminger also writes Honolulu Lite Mondays,
Wednesdays and Sundays. Send ideas to him at the
Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Suite 7-210,
Honolulu 96813, phone 235-6490 or e-mail

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