The Texas state Senate voted Monday to give federal, state and local authorities the ability to track and identify every passing vehicle on state highways. The provision calling for "automatic license plate identification cameras" was slipped into the Senate version of the must-pass Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) reauthorization bill. The provision was not part of the bill introduced in the state House of Representatives, whose less sympathetic members will have to accept or reject the entire 1274-page compromise hammered out by a conference committee. The House voted yesterday to instruct its conferees to insist that the House-passed ban on red light cameras remain in the final text.

The Senate's surveillance camera proposal promises taxpayer funds to the same private companies that operate photo radar and red light camera systems threatened by the House bill. License plate readers use the same basic technology as automated ticketing machines. Instead of tracking, for example, only those who exceed a certain speed threshold, the plate readers will store a video image of the front passenger compartment and rear license plate of every single passing vehicle. Optical character recognition software identifies the registered vehicle owner and allows for easy indexing of the time and location of travel for each person identified using the highway.

The Senate-passed bill gives police broad authority for the first time to use this information to prosecute any state or federal crime, as long as it is not a traffic violation "punishable by fine only." The bill also specifies that the cameras may be used to find suspects in amber alert cases, missing senior citizens and those accused of killing a police officer. The capability to search for suspects is exactly what troubles one civil rights group.

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Big Brother Is Watching: Texas Senate Endorses Camera Based License Identification System

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