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Town to photograph every car that enters and leaves

The California town of Tiburon votes to set up permanent cameras to record the license plate of every car on its roads. Is this one more step toward a surveillance state?

Tiburon, Calif., is a twee little place. If you aren't familiar with the old-country colloquialism "twee," it means, well, something like "precious." Like one of those dogs Paris Hilton used to carry in her purse.

When one wanders through its little streets, just north of San Francisco, one gets the sense that a few of the residents, on seeing someone who appears not to be from around those parts, reach for their handkerchief and hand sanitizer.

How can one, therefore, be surprised that a meeting of the Tiburon Town Council voted on Wednesday by 4 to 0 to install cameras to photograph every single car that enters or leaves this little Disneyland?

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that this may be the first community in the country to have defended itself with cameras in such a way. The idea is to photograph the license plates of every car that treads Tiburon's hallowed roads and compare the information with the police's list of the stolen and nefarious.

Tiburon. Such a tranquil place. CC Stewart/Flickr

The Tiburon police chief, Michael Cronin, told the Chronicle: "I think it makes the community safer."

There are certainly even more definitions of the word "safety" than of the word "twee." However, it is heartwarming that the Tiburon police--inspired, perhaps, by Google--promise that the information will be kept for only 30 days.

The strange thing is that Tiburon, a northern suburb of San Francisco, isn't exactly Oakland. It doesn't enjoy high crime figures. Indeed, some might say that the most criminal elements in the place are to be seen on the racks of its clothes stores.

The town is fortunate, however, in that it is on a peninsula, from which there are only two roads. So the total cost of putting up six cameras is estimated to be no more than $200,000, which works out at something near $20 per resident. (Tiburon residents enjoy, by the way, a median income somewhere above $125,000.)

I know there will be some who believe you can never have enough security cameras in this heinous and half-witted world. But perhaps some will worry that the police might make rather instinctive judgments about the provenance of certain cars and their intentions.

Others will wonder whether this decision might affect businesses in Tiburon. Still others will ponder whether the police might be willing to offer a Web site showing the movements of all its officers.

I merely wonder how many people, knowing they might have to go to Tiburon for a meal of organic Kobe beef, rosemary ice cream, and plenty of Stags Leap cabernet, will choose to remove their front license plates. You know, just to be on the safe side.