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Speed camera vigilantes


The United Kingdom is one of the most surveilled societies in the West, its 60 million citizens monitored by 4 million cameras, including 6,000 traffic cameras. The latter have touched off a wave of protests that are making politicians and traffic cops nervous.

Since the first speed cameras went up in 1992, the government has ticketed Brits to the tune of $210 million a year, with 58 percent of British drivers forking over fines. More recently, angry drivers have destroyed or damaged more than 1,000 of the machines with fire, baseball bats, explosives, and other techniques that drive traffic cops to use words like terrorism. Much of the vandalism has been carried out by a secretive group called Motorists Against Detection.

According to The New York Times, one camera in the town of Brentwood was torched three times. The government finally spent $66,000 to house the machine in a fireproof chamber. It would cost almost $400 million to protect every camera the same way—money authorities aren't eager to spend.

Guardian columnist George Monbiot has called the anti-camera activists "anti-social bastards," sniffing that "while there are many reasons for the growth of individualism in the UK, the extreme libertarianism now beginning to take hold here begins on the road." Meanwhile, the Conservative Party, looking ahead to elections in 2009 or 2010, is floating the idea of cutting back on cameras and improving road safety in other ways.