November 06, 2013 - Is the government spying on us? That's what Independence Township resident Gary Taylor wants to know.
Taylor is concerned with recently installed cameras at several intersections in Independence Township.
Taylor first noticed the new equipment on Dixie Highway and Maybee Roads on his way home from church.
"I looked up and saw the cameras, walked out and looked at them and then I pulled my truck up and I got out and waved to the cameras," he said. "Then I got to thinking about it and I'm wondering what they're for."
Where does our privacy start, he wondered.
"Is this another way for the government to spy on the American people," he asked, noting planes and drones can look right into your house. "Where does spying on our country stop? When do they stop interfering with our privacy?"
Craig Bryson, public information officer for the Road Commission for Oakland County, said the cameras are for traffic control and will not be used for spying on people or issuing tickets.
"We are in traffic not law enforcement," said Bryson.
The cameras are part of the Faster and Safer Travel through Routing and Advanced Controls system, FAST-TRAC.
"It is a traffic operation center," Bryson said. "It does not store any information or images."
Bryson said Michigan is home to the second largest system of its type in the country behind Los Angeles.
FAST-TRACK also has the capabilities to report any malfunctions of traffic lights.
Bryson said the system detects how much traffic is at an intersection and then sends that information to a computer located at the intersection.
He assures the lights are not used to catch people running red lights or violating traffic laws, but only detect cars, help control traffic, and analyze traffic flow.
"The cameras detect algorithms and analyze the information to keep the traffic flowing," said Bryson. "These signals change to respond to traffic."
Bryson said the RCOC maintains over 90 percent of the 1,500 hundred traffic signals in the county, but MDOT managers the FAST-TRAC system.
On their website, the RCOC said because Michigan is the fastest growing state in the United States, and money is short to build or widen new roads, the roads are often congested. Cameras help keep the traffic flowing.
In addition to sending the information to the computer at the intersection, the computer also sends it to a regional computer monitoring network-wide traffic flow and balancing it along major corridors.
Traffic engineers can also monitor intersections if there is an accident, he said.
FTAS begin in 1992 and similar cameras have been installed in 600 locations around the country.
Bryson said the project started off as a research project and has received heavy funding.
"The project has received over $100 million in special funding and grants," he said.