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In Arizona, cameras that nab speeders record a murder, too

Controversy flares after shooting death of a worker inside a camera-equipped van.

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Photo-based enforcement of speeding laws has its advocates and its opponents, like most things. But the battle over the technology has been especially pitched, never more so than now that an Arizona man has been killed in a drive-by shooting of a camera-equipped van.

The suspect in the crime has been charged with first-degree murder, with police stating that the alleged gunman knew someone was inside the van because its interior light was on. But even before Sunday's shooting, it was clear that Arizona's deployment of photo enforcement had tapped a reservoir of resentment – even vitriol – against a technology that some discredit as a government grab for speeding-ticket revenue or as a "Big Brother is watching you" violation of privacy.

In late 2008, a man attacked a photo-enforcement camera with a pickax, as the state was expanding its program, and some motorists have covered camera lenses to blind them. Arizona last fall became the first to employ a statewide system of photo enforcement for traffic scofflaws, but use of the technology is increasing throughout the US.

The system's defenders say its use is on the rise for two simple reasons: It improves safety, and it is an effective way to bring to justice those who disobey traffic rules.

"Having cameras everywhere is just one of the prices we pay for highway safety in modern life," says Robert Pugsley, a law professor at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles.

Conflicting studies

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