By Bill Davis | Current Staff Writer

Aldous Huxley’s classic 1932 novel Brave New World warns of the dangers of giving the state control over new and powerful technologies. The citizens in this futuristic society have lost most of their personal freedoms as a result of these technological advances. That’s hardly what’s happening on Folly Beach but in the next few weeks, a series of digital cameras will be installed along the lone road on and off of Folly Island in hopes of giving tourists and residents up to the moment traffic information, and two more cameras helping cops capture criminals and nogoodniks wanted in other parts of the region and state. And many are concerned that this technology is an intrusion of their privacy.

City Administrator Spencer Wetmore said that license plate-reading cameras will be positioned on a pole near Crosby’s Seafood on Folly Road, just before the final bridge into town.

Additionally, the County of Charleston has given the city two video cameras to also position along Folly Road that will tie into a statewide 511 app that livestreams traffic conditions from around the state.

It’s all part of the city’s ongoing revitalization and redesign of Center Street, which saw four lanes cut down to three and a turn-lane created last year.

Wetmore said Folly is “excited to provide these services to residents and visitors, with the traffic-streaming cameras proving to be a valuable asset for those wanting to get on and off the island.

“And the license plate-reading cameras will be invaluable for public safety,” she said.

The license plate-reading cameras will be hooked into the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) database. A records check program will alert police to the presence of cars registered to drivers with outstanding warrants.

Police officers can then respond to help other agencies track down and arrest the wanted men or women that may be in the car.

But not everyone is excited to have the cameras. Some feel it’s an invasion of privacy.

City Councilman DJ Rich is fine with the traffic cameras, but voted against the license plate-reading cameras. for that very reason.

“There’s too high of an opportunity for abuse, and we have absolutely no written protocol for handling them,” said Rich, who has security cameras throughout his bar, Planet Follywood. 

Police Chief Andrew Gilreath said that the license plate-reading cameras will cost close to $20,000, and will be used in a very limited manner.

“Neither I nor City Council have any plans for these cameras to be used to write tickets,” said Gilreath.

Rich said he believes Gilreath, and trusts him. But he said, that leaves the city open for problems with whoever is the next chief. “The chief before Andrew was great … until he wasn’t,” said Rich. “the potential for abuse is just too large.”

Chief Gilreath argued that the technology is not an invasion of privacy, as license plates are located on the outside of a car, where a person has no expectation of privacy. Wetmore echoed the chief, pointing out this kind of technology is in use throughout the Lowcountry.

Additionally, Gilreath said that the cameras would be of most use during big festivals and hot days, when traffic is snarled and crawling onto the island. That way, license plates would be easier to read and police could respond to a slower moving vehicle quicker.

What it will do is alert law enforcement to when a suspected murderer or rapist or robber is in their midst, according to Mayor Tim Goodwin, taking a moment last week to answer questions from a friend’s vacation home in South Africa.

Councilman Rich liked the idea of snaring “real” bad guys, “but what about if it’s just some guy down with his family from Goose Creek who doesn’t know he’s missed a child-support payment – is that the best use of our few officers?.”

Goodwin dismissed Rich’s concern.

“Why wouldn’t you want to know if there’s a bad guy near your home?” asked Goodwin, who hopes word gets out that the city has employed the cameras “so maybe more bad guys will get the message to not come to Folly.”

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