By Doug Ireland
---- — When James Webb drove through the Hooksett tolls, the last thing the Derry state representative expected to see were flashing lights.
Webb, a Republican, later realized the lights came from cameras snapping photographs of every vehicle that passed through — not just toll violators.
He became angry, believing motorists’ rights were being violated.
“Is that an invasion of privacy?” Webb said. “I think so.”
Webb’s complaint was taken to Earl Sweeney, assistant commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Safety.
Sweeney said although the state’s longtime practice is to photograph only the license plates of toll violators, equipment recently installed at some tollbooths is designed to take photos of all vehicles.
Concerned about violating privacy laws, Sweeney contacted turnpikes administrator Christopher Waszczuk. Sweeney said yesterday motorists are not photographed and Waszczuk is working with the equipment manufacturer to correct the problem.
“I’m sure the manufacturer wasn’t aware that New Hampshire is a more stringent state,” Sweeney said. “There is no sinister plan to follow people down the road.”
The equipment was installed within the last six months on Interstate 93 in Hooksett, Interstate 293 in Bedford and Interstate 95 in Hampton, Sweeney said.
The eventual goal is to install the photographic equipment at tollbooths throughout the state. Use of open tolling required the purchase of the latest, high-speed equipment, Sweeney said.
The equipment also quickly determines if EZ Pass users have money in their accounts, Sweeney said. He did not know the equipment’s cost.
New Hampshire law does not prohibit the state toll system from photographing license plates, but it does restrict dissemination of that information, Sweeney said. He said the photographs of nonviolators are immediately deleted.
But Webb isn’t convinced license plate numbers won’t end up in the wrong hands. He’s determined to seek legislation to prevent all vehicles from being photographed.
“I don’t see a need to take a photo of your license plate if there is no violation,” he said. “I would definitely sponsor or co-sponsor a bill.”
Webb said visitors to the Granite State who paid their tolls might not want to return if they knew their cars were being photographed.
“I think it sends a wrong message,” he said. “Supposedly, the pictures are deleted every night. Do I believe that? Of course not. People shouldn’t have to be afraid their picture is taken.”
Sweeney said there have been no other complaints about the cameras.