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Opinion: What are phone-use-detecting cameras really for?

By Tim Keen, 20 Oct 2019 Features

Opinion road cameras privacy issues feature

With his keen sense, Tim deduces that these new cameras serve a more nefarious purpose

The NSW government has spent $88 million on stealth cameras to stop people texting while driving. They could have achieved the same thing in a more fun way by making manual transmissions mandatory.

Here’s the thing, though – my phone can tell everything about me. It knows when I’m sleeping, it knows when I’m awake. It knows when I’ve been bad or good. Basically, my phone is Santa Claus.

So why not deal with the phone problem at the phone level? No texting once the phone detects that its owner is driving a car. I know it must be difficult for a phone to tell the difference between driving a car and riding in one. But then it must be difficult for a phone to morph my face into Donald Trump’s in real time, so that I can prank-call Scott Morrison and get him to sing God Is In the House in a falsetto, and they manage to do that.

Conspiracy theory time: I don’t think the phone-deterring cameras are actually there to deter phone use. Look at the angle – looking straight down into your car.

“Oh, they have to be at that angle to spot people texting with their phones in their laps,” scoff the easily duped, before getting back to thinking that the lines on Boris Johnson’s throat are definitely just human stretch marks, and not the tell-tale gills of a lizard-person. (Wake up, people!)

MORE: Police go back in time to nab tech-savvy speeding motorists

But you know they have to be using multiple angles, not just the steep downward angle, because you know what that angle doesn’t catch? Your number plate – so how are they gonna send you the fine? So there must be at least one more camera to catch that. And the camera angle to catch someone texting in a Camry is different from the camera angle to catch someone texting in a semi, so you can bet there are different cameras with multiple angles to capture that.

In fact, they have to be shooting from so many different angles, using so many different cameras, that they can capture pretty much everything and everyone inside every car.

Which is kinda inevitable in this age of high-tech policing and national security paranoia – a state-wide net of high-definition cameras, shooting 24 hours a day from multiple angles in all weather conditions, to identify not just who is in the car, but what they’re carrying.

Pretty much what you’d get if you gave $88 million to the Special Tactics guys, which are the police who use the unmarked entrance in the back lane and always seem to have traces of black face-paint in their whiskers.

But if you told the general population that the police and ASIO and who-knows-who-else were going to take a peek inside your car every time you left the garage, everyone would lose their minds. “My privacy! My precious privacy!” we’d all shriek, the same way we do when social media corporations use our data the way they told us they would in the terms and conditions, which we all agree to without reading but blame the corporations anyway.

Instead, the NSW government says the cameras are there to catch people texting, which certainly seems like a prime use for $88 million. (Sceptical face emoji.)

They won’t even tell anyone where the cameras are. “We have to use the element of surprise to get people to think, ‘I could get caught at any time’,” the NSW Minister for Roads says. Which makes sense, but it also makes sense for speed cameras, and they tell you where those are going to be.

So the cameras are there to, what, catch terrorists or drug dealers or something? Maybe. But I can’t help noticing that the steep downward angle might be okay for catching someone texting – though it’s absolutely ideal for catching someone giving a cheeky road-job from the shotgun seat.

I say that someone high-placed in the NSW government suspects that his wife is giving hummers to a co-worker on the carpool home and has wrangled $88 million-worth of hidden cameras to catch her in the act. How? Probably by calling Scott Morrison with his face deep-faked as Donald Trump. Works every time.

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