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Cities Shouldn't Sell Traffic Data

Author: Peter R. Orszag
June 19, 2013


In the midst of new revelations about federal government surveillance, cities are increasing their own monitoring programs: using traffic cameras to fight speeding. The result is that cities have ever more information about how and where we drive.

The issue is what cities should do with all that data. That question is anything but hypothetical: At the Clinton Global Initiative America gathering last week in Chicago, the central concern of the infrastructure task force was the desire for innovative revenue streams, possibly including traffic camera data, to pay for much-needed new projects. Google Inc.'s recently announced $1.1 billion acquisition of Waze, a traffic application, adds a new twist to the debate, by giving us a hint of just how valuable such data might be.

Camera use is spreading rapidly in the U.S. By 2012, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, about two dozen states used traffic cameras, and about 700 municipalities had installed such systems or were in the process of doing so. The institute estimates that about a fifth of the U.S. population lives in areas where the cameras have been or are being installed.

I know from personal experience that these cameras work. I once received not one but two speeding tickets from different cameras on the way to my son's soccer game. (I made it on time, but it was an expensive trip.) Next time, I'll probably leave earlier.

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