from the and-no-incentive-to-improve dept

Tim Cushing
Tech Dirt
January 27, 2014

God bless the drivers of Maryland, whose government officials have been experimenting on them for years by placing their driving records and insurance rates in the hands of unreliable private contractors for years. We’ve already covered one major traffic camera firm (ATS – American Traffic Solutions) in the Maryland-DC area whose response to questionable photos captured by its cameras was to crop out anything that might make the ticket challengeable, like calibration lines or other vehicles.

Now, it appears another major contractor, Xerox State and Local Solutions, has been caught operating faulty cameras — and issuing tens of thousands of questionable citations. (via Reason)

Consultant URS Corp. evaluated the camera system as run by Xerox State and Local Solutions in 2012 and found an error rate of more than 10 percent — 40 times higher than city officials have claimed. The city got those findings last April but never disclosed the high error rate, refusing calls by members of the City Council to release the audit.

The city issued roughly 700,000 speed camera tickets at $40 each in fiscal year 2012. If 10 percent were wrong, 70,000 would have wrongly been charged $2.8 million.

Xerox’s contract ended in 2012, and the city tried out a couple of new contractors after the Baltimore Sun reported that the city’s cameras were producing faulty citations. Previous to the Sun’s investigative work, city officials claimed the cameras had a “one-quarter of one percent error rate.” Xerox performed its own audit and found 5 cameras with a 5.2% error rate, but said it took those offline upon discovery.

Neither claim matches up with the URS audit. Not only were 10% clearly erroneous, but another 26% were declared “questionable,” meaning the system Xerox ran for three years was only unquestionably “right” less than two-thirds of the time.

To top this all off, members of the city government still hadn’t seen this audit until the Baltimore Sun managed to secure a copy of it.

City Council members reacted with dismay and anger when told Wednesday of the audit’s results, asking why the Rawlings-Blake administration didn’t reveal the high error rate months ago and take steps to fully refund fines paid by motorists.

The administration has one good reason not to release the report: it doesn’t want to get sued.

Despite calls from the City Council to release the audit, the administration does not plan to do so, Harris said. City Solicitor George Nilson, the administration’s chief lawyer, has said releasing the audit would violate a settlement agreement with Xerox and “create obvious risks and potential exposure for the city.”

In the settlement, the city agreed to pay Xerox $2.3 million for invoices from late 2012. The city also agreed to keep confidential any documents “referring or relating to, or reflecting, each party’s internal considerations, discussions, analyses, and/or evaluations of issues raised during the settlement discussions.”

The documents are no longer “confidential” at this point (and can be viewed here), and what’s been uncovered may cause future problems for Xerox, which was selected by a city panel last year to take over Chicago’s traffic cams. This happened in August of 2013, after Baltimore had already cut the contractor loose, but well before URS’ report surfaced. Knowing it had buried the company’s ineptitude by contractually obligating Baltimore’s administration to keep its mouth shut, Xerox officials had the confidence to make the following claim when reached for comment last August:

Xerox officials have said the problems in Baltimore accounted for less than 1 percent of all the tickets issued there.

So, that’s clearly untrue. Xerox kept burying itself, though, much like it thought it had buried that report.

“The majority of our camera programs are extremely well run and our customers are very satisfied,” Xerox Corp. spokesman Carl Langsenkamp said. “That’s really all I have to say about Baltimore.”

Well, its “customers” were as satisfied as anyone can be when the truth has been contractually bound and gagged. The Chicago mayor’s office defended doing business with Xerox by pointing out it had done its due diligence, noting no Baltimore official had declared Xerox barred or ineligible for city contracts. That’s what NDA’s do. They keep people from telling you bad things.

In even more “good” news for Chicago’s drivers, the story also contains this bit of info:

Xerox Corp., best known for its onetime domination of the photocopier market, is a relative newcomer to the automated camera industry. In 2009 it purchased Affiliated Computer Services Inc. — well-known in the industry — for $6.4 billion.

“Well-known” has lots of different meanings. ACS is “well-known” for its close relationship with New Orleans cops, who formed their own company in order to cash in on ACS’ traffic cam photo backlog, along the way violating NOPD ethics rules, laundering their funds through a police charity, and generally reinforcing the negative image of a corrupt New Orleans police force in many people’s minds. In fairness, ACS accidentally outed the officers’ unethical sideline by paying the controlling officer directly through his company, rather than obscuring the transaction through the charity.

ACS is also “well-known” for being careless with the personal info of millions of private citizens. ACS lost a data CD containing the personal info of 2.9 million Georgia residents back in 2007. Prior to that, it had a computer stolen (500k-1.4 million Colorado residents’ data contained therein), suffered a website glitch that exposed 21,000 students’ info, and had seven years of credit card data stolen from one of its computers at the Denver airport.

What Chicago may have watching over its drivers is a set of malfunctioning cameras overseen by a company that can’t seem to stop coughing up people’s personal data. Good times.


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