District Gets OK on Cameras; Armey Sees Invasion of Privacy

Article excerpt

Byline: Daniel F. Drummond

Congress has approved the District's request to use $800,000 for its new photo radar cameras - designed to catch speeders electronically.

But House Majority Leader Dick Armey decries the congressional support of the program.

The speed camera program is expected to officially begin Aug. 1 and for the District to move forward, it had to get congressional approval for the money it expects to spend to implement the plan.

It got that support - and the authorization to use the money - last week after the House passed the final version of a military supplemental appropriations bill that goes until Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. The Senate also has already given the go-ahead to the stopgap spending measure bill, and President Bush is expected to sign it.

But a spokesman for Mr. Armey, Texas Republican, said the federal government has no business encouraging the use of the cameras, especially in the nation's capital.

"We shouldn't have Congress endorse this kind of system," Armey spokesman Richard Diamond said. "It's not good for the federal government to be involved in promoting devices that undermine citizens' privacy rights, especially the right to face one's accuser."

Mr. Armey voted against the spending measure specifically because Congress was authorizing the District to use the $800,000 for its speed camera programs, essentially giving the District federal approval to invade drivers' privacy, Mr. Diamond said.

Several House Republican aides said that unlike past instances with controversial subjects involving the District, like funding for needle-sharing programs, the line item for the cameras was handled quietly.

But the chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee for the District, Rep. Joe Knollenberg, Michigan Republican, said the money was put into the supplemental spending bill because the District asked for it and the spending bill was not meant to address policy issues.

"If it is their money, we pretty much let them have their say," Mr. Knollenberg said.

Mr. Knollenberg did note, however, that he and his staff were going to look at the issue more carefully as they formulate the fiscal 2002 budget for the District, which begins in October.

"We don't want to become Big Brother," Mr. Knollenberg said, adding that he is somewhat supportive of the 39 red-light cameras around the District as well as the benefits of the speed cameras, saying they have been proven to reduce accidents. …