San Francisco Bay Areans have become much too complacent about a genuine threat to freedom — in the form of RED LIGHT CAMERAS!
These detestable, unconstitutional devices have sprung up all over the place, and so far they have survived court challenges. A neighbor was recently cited by one of the damned things, and she showed me the summons which was mailed to her. It featured not only pictures of her license plate, but of her face as she drove through the intersection. An accompanying notice recited the so-far fruitless nature of the quest to defeat this noxious idea in the courts, and explained that the citing officer (the one signing the form) was the “witness” who could be expected to appear in court against her. It goes on to explain that the ticket may only be contested “if you are not the person in the picture” and the whole thing made my blood boil. Because, with technology proceeding at its present pace, there’ll soon be sensors linked to cameras on the highways, with automatic speed tickets being cranked out by computerized Big Brotherism, with the confrontation clause of the Constitution rendered meaningless.
I’m not patient enough to wait for a good legal case, and I won’t be in California for more than another week or so.
But I had a few thoughts, and the first thing that occurred to me was, hey, if you’re a deliberate scofflaw and you know you’re running a red light, why sit there and be a victim? You could always do what disgraced respectable businessmen used to do in the 1950s when they were arrested on morals charges; throw a hat in front of your face! Now, I realize that this might interfere with driving, so it might help to punch a couple of holes through it beforehand. (An old baseball cap would serve just as well as the 1950s gentleman’s fedora, of course.)
Of course, if the “citing officer” (a whining socialist government clerk, more likely) saw that picture, why, he might not be too happy about it. Bureaucrats don’t like being bested at their game, and besides, they’d have your license number. That’s enough information to bring a possible charge of interference with a law enforcement officer, as proscribed in Section 148 of the California Penal Code:

Resisting, Delaying, or Obstructing Officer
148. (a) (1) Every person who willfully resists, delays, or obstructs any public officer, peace officer, or an emergency medical technician, as defined in Division 2.5 (commencing with Section 1797) of the Health and Safety Code, in the discharge or attempt to discharge any duty of his or her office or employment, when no other punishment is prescribed, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by imprisonment in a county jail not to exceed one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment.
(2) Except as provided by subdivision (d) of Section 653t, every person who knowingly and maliciously interrupts, disrupts, impedes, or otherwise interferes with the transmission of a communication over a public safety radio frequency shall be punished by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment.

Far be it from me to advocate breaking the law! Freedom of expression is one thing. You can burn the flag, wear offensive clothing, even cover your entire head and face with a burka for religious reasons. But to defeat a camera? Most likely they’d call it a crime — and I doubt the ACLU would defend you unless you were a Muslim woman. The hat trick would certainly piss ’em off — but that self-incriminating license plate staring at their camera would be your primary problem.
Which brings me to a completely unrelated idea more along the lines of Rube Goldberg than the ACLU.
Remember, I would never advocate violating Section 148, so this is completely unrelated, OK?
Ever lock your keys in the car? What a humiliating, degrading experience that is! Well, you can buy those little metal Hide-A-Key sliding containers to stick under the fender, but thieves might find them and steal your car, and these days, there’s not much magnetic metal under cars; the underside of my car consists of plastic “aprons.”
So how about hiding the key underneath the license plate? I think it would be pretty easy to make a license plate frame with a mousetrap-style spring hinge so that the plate would flap closed. (Some gas tank filler caps are located under hinged license plates.) But that’s way too insecure, as thieves might figure it out……
So I thought, why not have the license plate spring going the other way, so that the plate wants to fly open all the time, but is held down by a small plastic catch? The latter could be solenoid-controlled by a remote hand held unit, so if you were to lock your keys in the car, you’d just press the button, and with an instant SNAP! the plate flies upward, and there’s the key in its hiding place.
Naturally, this would render the license plate unreadable, so you’d have to make sure to close it in place afterwards, and you’d never, never want to hit the “unlatch” button while driving, because then the cops (and the red light cameras) would be unable to see (or read) your plate.
This might be a nice gadget for the man or woman who has everything, and it could be sold by the same places that sell radar detection equipment.
But they’d have to include the following warning:
That would be illegal!
(Far be it from me to say whether, in the philosophical sense, it would be wrong.)
UPDATE: Wow, I was gone most of the day and then some, and just returned late at night to see that Glenn Reynolds has linked this post. Thanks Glenn, and welcome InstaPundit readers. I appreciate the comments, and if I could add anything it would be that I personally think that anyone who deliberately runs a red light is contemptible and dangerous, and I don’t defend them. Two wrongs do not make a right, though, and when smaller freedoms are sacrificed (even for a good cause), that only greases the skids for much larger encroachments.
UPDATE (01/27/05): Glenn Reynolds has more on the problems with traffic cameras: they not only increase the number of accidents, but raise serious problems involving legal process. In Virginia, personal service is required, which does not obtain by certified mail.
In California,

[W]ith red light cameras, there is no arrest, no promise to appear, no signature of the arresting officer to verify the traffic complaint, no personal service of process, no live witness, no right to confront accusers, no due process, no fair hearing and an automatic finding of guilt by the court.

Sheesh! If that’s the way of the future, I think it’s time to return to the Constitution (at least the founders’ intent….)
And here’s a description of how it works.
According to another web site, several years ago ago, these tickets were being beaten routinely:

If you get a ticket in the mail from San Francisco’s red light camera program, think twice about paying up. Eight of every 10 motorists captured are escaping conviction. With a $270 fine for running a red light, many motorists are driving without front license plates and risking the $25 fine. (The cameras take a picture of the front of the car.) Also, since the owner of the car is mailed the ticket, some car owners are able to get the tickets dismissed if they can convince authorities that they were not driving the vehicle at the time. One woman is suing the city because she says the camera is not an appropriate witness in lieu of an officer, who can assess the situation and circumstances. Others argue that motorists who drive the same route past these cameras every day will have no recollection of the supposed infraction when they receive the ticket several weeks later, and are essentially left without a defense. It shifts the burden of proof to the accused.

The site includes a Motion to Dismiss, which could be modified to fit the new changes.
If they keep this up, they’ll be losing more money then they get!
(And now it’s back to work for me…..)
MORE: A reader who hasn’t tried it yet emailed me about a web site advertising “Phantom Plate” — which he describes as “a high gloss varnish that makes your license unreadable after the flash of the camera light goes off.”
I don’t know how well it works, but I checked out the web site and I like the slogan:

“Over 1,000,000 license plates protected.”

Hmmm….. To protect and preserve?
Perhaps they should add that this product is sold only as a license plate preservative — and is not intended to be used to evade law enforcement activities!