7/24/2008Maryland: Photo Police Accused of Privacy Invasion
Politician use police to contact Silver Spring, Maryland motorist who wrote to oppose speed cameras.
Police used an official database to look up personal information on a speed camera opponent on behalf of a Montgomery County, Maryland politician. The incident occurred after motorist Mark Romanoff had written to County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) urging him to drop the use of "peeping tom" speed cameras in the name of privacy. Romanoff told TheNewspaper that he was shocked by the response.
"Please consider had you been stopped for speeding by a uniformed police officer your three citations would have cost you much more than the established $40 as well as placed points on your license," Montgomery County Police Captain John A. Damskey wrote in an email to Romanoff. "For example, November 18 your 54mph in a 30mph zone and December 22 your 50mph in a 30mph zone would have cost you $160 and placed 2 points on your license for each event."
Romanoff's forty-two word email to Leggett never mentioned any of these incidents, nor did it mention the fact that he was an avid motorcyclist. But Captain Damskey's extensive response singled out the fact that Romanoff enjoyed riding motorcycles.
"I do find it appalling that a letter to the county council president should result in having a police official look up my driving record," Romanoff said. "This is another example of my complaint against the ongoing invasion of privacy enabled by evolving technology."
Montgomery County Police did not immediately respond to a request for a copy of the department's written policy regarding the acceptable use of police database information. The county's ethics code does prohibit public employees from using intimidation to interfere with "a person's freedom to engage in political activity" (Section 19A-14e).
A similar incident happened in Edmonton, Canada in 2004. After local columnist Kerry Diotte wrote a scathing commentary against the city's photo radar program, Edmonton Police Sergeant Bill Newton ordered a subordinate to obtain information about Diotte from a confidential police database. Newton used this information to order traffic officers to target the columnist's BMW. An attempt to frame Diotte for drunk driving was later uncovered, resulting in an extensive investigation into the privacy breach by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Mark Romanoff's Email
To: firstname.lastname@example.org (Ike Leggett, County Executive)
Dear Mr. Leggett,
It is high time to remove the county's facistic, Orwellian speed cameras! When did the most liberal and progressive of counties turn into a "peeping tom"? Return us to our roots as a government with respect for personal privacy.
County response to email:
I am in receipt of your email regarding the Automated Traffic Enforcement Program. I am the Director of the Traffic Division within the Police Department and responsible for the management of the Photo Speed Program for Montgomery County. County Executive Leggett asked that I respond to your email in hopes of clarifying our efforts.
Contrary to your comments regarding personal privacy, the United States Supreme Court has time and again ruled that driving is a regulated activity on public roads where there is no personal expectation of privacy. Our automated enforcement efforts begin at 11mph over the posted speed limits which are established using commonly accepted engineering guidelines. Please consider had you been stopped for speeding by a uniformed police officer your three citations would have cost you much more than the established $40 as well as placed points on your license. For example, November 18 your 54mph in a 30mph zone and December 22 your 50mph in a 30mph zone would have cost you $160 and placed 2 points on your license for each event.
Since June 1, 2009 my Division has responded to 9 fatal accidents, several where speed was a primary contributing factor. As you are a motorcyclist, what may be most concerning for you to consider is that, sadly, three of those fatalities involved motorcycles.
As the father of a teen driver and the Director of the Traffic Division which handles vehicular fatalities throughout the County, I can assure you that speed is a serious concern and a threat to persons of all ages. Chief Manger and County Executive Leggett are committed to providing our residents with the highest quality police services possible and striving to improve the safety of our drivers and pedestrians in our communities. Our primary focus is to reduce the speed on our roadways, decrease the severity of those crashes that occur and if we are just a little lucky save a life or two.
As a fellow motorcyclist, I don't share this with you to argue, offend or convince you that speeding is a serious problem in our community but rather to hopefully remind you to be more vigilant and attentive to your driving and voluntarily reduce your speed overall.
Please be safe and I thank you for your email.
Captain John A. Damskey, Director
Montgomery County Police