Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Brekford Demands Tribute to See Calibration Records

The city of Salisbury has claimed that it does not have custody of annual calibration certificates and daily setup logs for it's speed cameras, and has instead stated that we need to acquire the documents directly from Brekford Corporation, who is demanding a fee of $535 for copies of the records.

We previously reported how we had placed the request under the Maryland Public Information Act on June 5th with Salisbury, MD for the following:
1)    The annual calibration certificates for ALL speed monitoring systems used by Salisbury during any portion of 2011, 2012, or 2013.  I am seeking both current AND expired certificates.

2)    The daily setup/deployment logs for all speed cameras used in Salisbury on the following dates:
    a.    October 19, 2012
    b.    November 1, 2012
    c.    December3, 2012
    d.    January 3, 2013
    e.    February 1, 2013

3)    The technical specifications of speed cameras used in Salisbury.
Salisbury does not report the precise locations of their speed cameras on the city website, however open sources indicate their are about 8 locations operating in the city.  We had requested annual calibration certificates, which are only one certificate per device per year, and setup logs for just 6 days.

State law says the following:
(3) A speed monitoring system operator shall fill out and sign a daily set-up log for a speed monitoring system that: 
(i) States that the speed monitoring system operator successfully performed the manufacturer-specified self-test of the speed monitoring system prior to producing a recorded image; 
(iii) Shall be admitted as evidence in any court proceeding for a violation of this section.
(ii) The independent calibration laboratory shall issue a signed certificate of calibration after the annual calibration check that:
2. Shall be admitted as evidence in any court proceeding for a violation of this section. 
State law requires local governments to respond to an MPIA request within 30 days.  However no documents were received by July 6th.  Salisbury stated to us that they had forwarded the request to their contractor.

On July 29 (53 days after the city originally received our request) we finally received a response from the city.
"In response to your request for information under the Maryland Public Information Act, please be advised that items 1,2 &3 are all records not kept by the City of Salisbury but are maintained by Brekford. In accordance with transportation article 21-809 these documents are provided to us for court relevant to the violation in question. Please feel free to contact Brekford for the information you have requested (see attached). "

The letter from Brekford stated that the documents would be provided only for a fee of $75 per hour PLUS an additional $235 in copying fees, for a total of $535.  Furthermore, Brekford denied access to the technical specifications of their device.

It's hard to know where to begin listing all the things wrong with this response.
  1. The city did not produce a request within 30 days as the state's open records law requires.  (The city's response is furthermore not compliant with the MPIA's rules for dealing with a "denial" of a request in several technical legal aspects.)
  2. The city is stating that our organization make a $535 payment directly to a speed camera contractor for copies of the records
  3. The fee charged by the contractor is well in excess of actual search costs.  $75/hour works out to a salary of about $150,000/year.  By our estimates $235 in copying fees works out to close to $1.95 per page (though the exact number of pages was not specified).  Typical fee schedules for public documents by local governments are around 25 cents per page.  The Public Information Act does not allow costs to be charged which are designed to produce a profit.  
  4. Release of the records and the cost of doing so has been left at the discretion of a speed camera contractor, who has a vested interest in NOT disclosing anything to the Maryland Drivers Alliance
  5. Salisbury has acknowledged that it does not have calibration records "kept on file" as state law requires.
  6. The fact that the city does not have calibration records on file brings into question who controls and dare we say who "operates" the speed camera program.
  7. The stated search time is implausible because Brekford obviously has a filing system for such commonly accessed records which allows them to retrieve them almost immediately.  Furthermore, if search does require 6 hours of time then why was our request delayed more than 30 days just to tell us the cost to INITIATE the search?  State law clearly says MPIA requests are to be completed in the earliest possible time, and the 30 days is a MAXIMUM response time is not a mandatory waiting period to begin a search.
  8. The company is denying access to all technical specifications of the equipment.  Arguably the certifications might not even be meaningful in terms of showing whether the devices are accurate without a technical description of the devices.  Basically they are saying the public is just supposed to "trust us" when Brekford says their equipment is of a sort which is reliable, since they are withholding all documents which describe the technology.
  9. The fact that the city does not have ready access to these documents except at hearings means implies that the city is not responsible for checking the status of the annual calibrations prior to issuing individual citations.  This makes it seem plausible that have been past problems with calibrations for these cameras which would have gone unnoticed until now.
  10. The more than 30 day delay and the excessive fees appear to be a deliberate effort by Brekford Corp to prevent our organization from obtaining the calibration documents in a timely manner.
Now why do we say #9 and 10?  Because Brekford Corp recently got nailed for having run speed cameras with expired calibration certificates in Greenbelt and in Hagerstown.  Those refunds cost Brekford approximately $52,000.  If any speed cameras had been operated in Salisbury with expired certificates between October 2012 and February of 2013, Brekford would obviously have realized that the documents responsive to our request would have revealed that.  And yet the decision as to whether we get to see these legally required documents, and under what terms, has been left entirely at the discretion of the for profit contractor whose bottom line (and perhaps also their bottoms) would have been at risk if the documents reveal a problem.

The Maryland Public Information Act is STATE LAW, and the text of the law is very clear about it's intent:
[a]ll persons are entitled to have access to information about the affairs of government and the official acts of public officials and employees.”  AND “[e]xcept as otherwise provided by law, a custodian shall permit a person or governmental unit to inspect any public record at any reasonable time.”  The fact that state law requires speed camera calibration records to be "kept on file" makes plain that they are public records, and the fact that the SHA has placed their calibration certificates online makes plain that these documents are of a sort for which there is no question about their disclosability.

The public has been assured that because these calibrations take place, that we can trust the equipment is accurate and reliable.  If The People, the press, and organizations like the Maryland Drivers Alliance cannot readily access these records without being subjected to unreasonable delays and then being forced to pay a speed camera contractor a 'tribute' in the form of an excessive fee, then those assurances are utterly meaningless.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Access To Brekford Calibration Records Stalled

The Town of Morningside and the City of Salisbury have failed to produce annual calibration certificates and daily setup logs for their speed cameras in response to a Maryland Public Information Act Request within the 30 day period of time required by state law.

The Maryland Drivers Alliance sent requests under the Maryland Public Information Act (Maryland's equivalent to the Freedom Of Information Act) to the City of Salisbury by email on June 5.  The request was for the following items:
1)    The annual calibration certificates for ALL speed monitoring systems used by Salisbury during any portion of 2011, 2012, or 2013.  I am seeking both current AND expired certificates.

2)    The daily setup/deployment logs for all speed cameras used in Salisbury on the following dates:
    a.    October 19, 2012
    b.    November 1, 2012
    c.    December3, 2012
    d.    January 3, 2013
    e.    February 1, 2013

3)    The technical specifications of speed cameras used in Salisbury.
This was followed up with a certified mail receipt, which the city signed for.

Salisbury confirmed that the request was received, however after the 30 day period of time allowed by state law had elapsed, we did not receive the requested records.  Instead, we were merely sent a forwarded email from Salisbury's contractor, Brekford Corporation, stating that they had been unable to collect the requested records.  On July 22 the interim town administrator stated to us by email that he would 'follow up' with us withn a few days, and the assistant police chief stated by email that " I will forward what I received last week on Tuesday after review by my bosses".  However as of July 27 (more than 50 days after the request) the requested calibration records still had not been received by us.

State law requires devices to be certified annually be an independent calibration lab, and requires the issued certificates to be "kept on file".  State law also requires the "operator" of a speed monitoring system to fill out and sign a daily setup log. which is also required to be "kept on file".  In most cases local governments assert that they, not the contractor, "operate" the devices in order to avoid a prohibition on paying contractors on the number of tickets issued.

We note that Salisbury maintains only a few speed camera sites, and as such the number of records requested is not actually that great.  A 'technical specification' is typically simply a description of the device, included in marketing material or operating manuals.

At the same time, we filed a similar request with the city of Morningside on June 5, and also sent a certified mail copy of the request which the town clerk signed for on June 10th.  This request was for the following:
1)    The annual calibration certificates for ALL speed monitoring systems used by Morningside during any portion of 2011, 2012, or 2013.  Please note that transportation article 21-809 requires annual calibration certificates for speed cameras to be “kept on file”.  I am seeking both current AND expired certificates.

2)    The daily setup/deployment logs for all speed cameras used in Morningside on Suitland Road (all locations and directions) on the following dates:
    a.    September 12, 2012
    b.    November 29, 2012
    c.    November 30, 2012
    d.    January 17, 2013
    e.    February 1, 2013
    f.    March 18, 2013
    g.    May 5, 2013

3)    All correspondence (including letters, emails, and memos) exchanged between the Morningside Police and its speed camera contractor (Brekford) dated from 11/1/2012 through present, pertaining to ‘administrative void’ of speed monitoring system citations or requesting that speed monitoring system citations be voided or refunded.

The request for correspondence about 'administrative void' of citations was included because the Maryland Drivers Alliance had been contacted by a motorist who had received an "administrative void" letter.  The motorist had intended to contest his ticket, but was issued the void letter included no explanation for the citation being voided.  Morningside has not publicly released any information about citations having been voided, and it is unknown at this time whether this was only affecting the one citation or if it was part of a larger batch of tickets being voided.  The motorist providing the information had found discrepancies with some of the information on the citations and also disputed the accuracy of the speed readings.

The Maryland Drivers Alliance attempted to follow up with the Town of Morningside by email about the requests, prior to the end of the 30 day time period for a response allowed by state law, on June 24, June 28, July 6.  No response to any of our inquiries was responded to within the 30 day time limit of the MPIA.  We attempted to contact the town again by email after the due date on July 11 and July 17th.  No reply was received.  On July 22, we called the town clerk who had signed the certified mail receipt and was told the request had been sent to the town attorney and that we would receive a response from him "within a few days".  We copied the town attorney (who happens to work for Alexander and Cleaver, a firm which does lobbying for speed camera contractor Xerox Corp).   Three days later the attorney confirmed he had our request, however no response either granting or denying our request was given and no records provided.  More than 50 days after we sent Morningside our request (20 days longer than state law allows) and after numerous attempts by us to follow up with the request, no records have been provided.

The Maryland Public Information Act is state law, which requires local governments to respond to requests within 30 days of receipt.  State law requires that public records must be made available to the requester at the earliest possible time, and within 30 days in any event, unless they fall into a limited number of legal categories for denied records.  Both daily setup logs and annual calibration certificates have been released by other jurisdictions on other occasions, and the SHA publishes annual calibration certificates to their websites, so any argument that such records would not be disclosable or should require extensive legal examination to release is highly implausible.  In any event, the 30 days allowed to respond to an MPIA request is intended to take into consideration the time for legal examination of a request.

Two other Brekford clients recently directed the contractor to refund speed camera citations issued by cameras with expired calibrations.  Hagerstown ordered Brekford to void or refund over 700 citations, and Greenbelt ordered another 664 to be voided.  A Washington County court had ruled that the 'annual' certificates issued for several cameras in Hagerstown violated state law by having expiration dates 13 months, rather than a year, after the date off issuance.

The Town of Morningside has had a particularly "interesting" history with photo enforcement.  Town Councilwoman Regina Foster resigned her position in 2011 after being accused in a ticket fixing scandal in which it was alleged that she had improperly voided red light camera tickets issued to herself and others.  Regina Foster was never charged, and was re-elected with only 77 votes (less than 4% of the town's population) in 2012, and is now back in office.   Prior to re-election Ms Foster was quoted by the Gazette as saying “And I love the speed cameras [installed last year] and the great opportunities their revenue provide to do things for the community.” . 
In June of 2012 Morningside budgeted to replace falling property tax revenues with $642,000 in speed camera revenues.  This would equate to about 8 citations per resident of the small town, which sits adjacent to I-495 and a major naval air facility.  The town's TOTAL budget from all sources is about $2million.
Aside from this, in 2009 a former Morningside police chief was drummed out of office and plead guilty to stealing and then illegally selling a handgun.  Another police chief resigned from Morningside earlier in 2013 amid disputes with the town.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Tell Us What You Think

We want to know more about what issues matter to our readers. Please take a few minutes to answer this (unscientific) poll and let us know what you think of these issues which affect drivers.

Municipalities Budget For Cameras Fines

Having successfully "dodged a bullet" by avoiding speed camera reforms which might have slightly cut into profits, numerous municipalities have written substantial speed camera revenues into their budgets with some planning on increasing fines issued.

The City of Gaitherburg's FY14 budget increases planned photo radar revenue from $2,500,000 in FY13 to $3,300,000, a 32% increase.

Hagerstown plans to bring in $1,557,000 in speed camera fines next year, a 13% increase over their camera revenues from last year.

The City of Frederick, fell short of their goal of $900,000 in speed camera revenue in FY2013, but nevertheless are budgeting to increase this amount to $1million.

Riverdale Park also fell short of the $550,000 they had planned to bring in for FY13, but still have written $550,000 in speed camera revenues into their FY14 budget.... 7.6% of the city's total budget.

Rockville is budgeting to collect $2million in speed camera fines in FY14, about the same as last year.  However they are additionally planning to bring in $1,800,000 from their red light camera program, which began ticketing for slow moving right turns (often from a right turn lane) last year.  Last year the city's red light camera revenues jumped from $830,000 in FY12 to $1,800,000.  Despite an ENORMOUS INCREASE in the number of red light camera violations being issued at each of their red light cameras where the new right turn cameras had been deployed, the city police described locations as having experienced a "50% drop" in red light camera citations.  For example, the city told Patch in May 2013 that a red light camera located on Gude Road at Gaither road saw a 50% drop in citations, when in fact the number of citations issued by this location in Jan-Feb of 2013 was approximately SEVEN TIMES as many as the city issued at that location in the same three months of both 2011 and 2012.  The Patch article made no mention of the fact that most of the increase was due to ticketing for right turns rather than what people usually consider to be 'red light running'.

Chevy Chase Village has seen a decrease in revenues from the heady days when over a third of their budget came from speed camera fines, but still has budgeted for $1,350,000 in speed camera revenues this year plus $150,000 in 'speed camera collections' and $5000 in interest on their large reserve of camera fines.... for a total of $1,505,000 or 28% of the city's $5.37 million budget.

The Town of Forest Heights plans to bring in $628,000 in speed camera fines and $100,000 in 'speed camera fund collections' for a total of $728,000 in camera revenue.  This is a decrease in the over $800,000 in revenues they collected in FY2013, according to the 4rth quarter budget audit, but still 18% of the 2000-resident town's $4million revenues.

College Park is planning to bring in a total of $1,500,000 in FY2014, of which about $585,000 will be paid to their contractor (Optotraffic) who receives a 39% cut of each citation.  If this amount is met it would be an increase over the $1,154,556 in actual revenues College Park collected in FY13.  The city's budget includes only one "Effectiveness measure" for the program, which is "Percent of citations enforcement camera processed within established guidelines" and which they claim to be 100% effective at.  College Park's total revenues from all sources is $14.65million.

Speed Camera fines are nominally required to be spent only on "public safety'.  However this term is undefined under state law and local governments are not banned from displacing general fund revenues with speed camera fines on existing operating expenses.  This means that for practical purposes, this constraint may have little or no effect on how much money is actually spent on what most people think is a "public safety" expense or how much is spent on material traffic safety improvements.  For example last year Morningside Maryland boasted how it was using $600,000 in speed camera revenues to replace falling local tax revenues.  Local governments have also demonstrated some flexibility in determining what constitutes an 'expense' of a speed camera program.  For example some jurisdictions such as Chevy Chase in the past have designated existing police officers to be 'expenses' of their program and helping them avoid limits on how much revenues they can keep.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

ACLU Documents Mass Tracking of Motorists By Government

The ACLU has released the findings of a year long investigation into the use of Automatic License Plate Readers(ALPR) by the government.  Documents obtained by 38 different states, including Maryland, revealed the use of the devices to record the movements of every vehicle past the devices, in some cases snapping photos, and recording the data about the movements of individual motorists for weeks, months, or even years. The ACLU compiled the data into a report entitled "You Are Being Tracked" and released the results of thousands of pages of FOIA(Freedom of Information Act) disclosures.

"License plate readers are just one example of a disturbing phenomenon: the government is increasingly using new technology to collect information about all of us, all the time, and to store it forever – providing a complete record of our lives for it to access at will."

The ACLU obtained the documents under the federal Freedom Of Information Act and the various open records laws of 38 states.  A total of 587 requests were sent.  According to the report, 293 of the requests were responded to and 294 have NOT been responded to. A total of 26,000 pages of responsive records were obtained.

The report found that while the devices are claimed to be used only for law enforcement purposes (such as finding stolen vehicles or vehicles with warrants) the vast majority of vehicles recorded by the system are not guilty of any violation:
"In our records requests, documents from Maryland illustrate this point. Approximately three-quarters of Maryland’s law enforcement agencies are networked into Maryland’s state data fusion center, which collected more than 85 million license plate records in 2012 alone.  According to statistics compiled by the fusion center for that year to date through May:

  • Maryland’s system of license plate readers had over 29 million reads. Only 0.2 percent of those license plates, or about 1 in 500, were hits. That is, only 0.2 percent of reads were associated with any crime, wrongdoing, minor registration problem, or even suspicion of a problem. 
  • Of the 0.2 percent that were hits, 97 percent were for a suspended or revoked  registration or a violation of Maryland’s Vehicle Emissions Inspection Program"
The documents also revealed that out of ONE MILLION plates read in Maryland, only 47 were associated with a serious offense.  "Furthermore, even these 47 alerts may not have helped the police catch criminals prevent crimes.  While people on the violent gang, terrorist, and sex offender lists are under general suspicion, they are not necessarily wanted for any present wrongdoing"

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Public and Private Lobbyists Worked to Kill Speed Camera Reform

Speed Camera Contractor Xerox Corporation Spent $118,718 on lobbyists opposing Speed Camera Reform legislation during the 6 months from November 2012-April 2013, according to documents on the State Ethics Commission website.

The records show that Xerox for the 6 months from November 2012-May2013, Xerox paid a team of 7 lobbyists from Alexander & Cleaver, PA a total of $42,318, and $60,000 to a team of 5 lobbyists from firm Harriet Jones & Malone LLC.  Harriet Jones & Malone is a particularly well connected group: the mayor of Baltimore City officiated the wedding of the two lobbyists in Las Vegas this year.

According to the state ethics commission annual report, Xerox Corp spent $182,941.93 on lobbying in 2012, ranking the company as #46 out of 302 firms listed.  For the most recent 6 month from November 2012-April 2013 Xerox was ranked the #43 spender.

Other speed camera contractors were participating as well.  Sigma Space Corporation (Optotraffic) paid Rifkin, Livingston, Levitan & Silver, LLC $35,983.64 to oppose the bills in this six month period.  American Traffic Solutions spent an additional $25,000, and RedFlex paid another $12,500.00 during the half year.

However the biggest spenders in opposition to the speed camera reform legislation was apparently the counties which profit from existing speed camera programs, acting both through the Maryland Association of Counties(MACO), and public employees working on the taxpayer dime.  The Montgomery County Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, which according to a statement by Ike Leggett "represents County interests, policy, and priorities in Annapolis", has an annual taxpayer-funded budget of $895,582.  This year the office's activities included opposing changes to the law which would have banned paying speed camera contractors based on the number of tickets they issued, and requiring speed camera citations to display timestamps detailed enough to include evidence of speed.

Montgomery County paid MACO $250,000 to represent their interests on legislative matters.  MaCo's activities this year included testifying against the most credible speed camera reform bills (including SB 207 and House Bill 421) which would have helped to protect the legal rights of motorists by requiring citation images to provide secondary evidence of speed.  Documents obtained by the Maryland Drivers Alliance show how MACO worked with Montgomery County, Prince George's County, Baltimore County, and Howard County as well as Baltimore City opposing these bills.  MaCo is supposed to represent all Maryland counties in legislative matters, including rural counties where there is often local opposition to speed cameras.  However in the MaCo emails discussing this issue which we obtained, representatives of other counties where photo enforcement is not currently widespread were not included in the distribution list.

Friday, July 12, 2013

State to Impose Fines and Revoke Plates for Unpaid Tolls, Offers Limited Time Amnesty

Under a new law passed by the 2013 General Assembly, Maryland will begin imposing $50 fines and eventual suspensions of in-state registrations for motorists who fail to pay toll bills within 30 days of the toll notice mail date.

The new law went into effect on July 1.  The MDTA will provide an amnesty for motorists who pay ICC bills: Between now and early October when the law will be put fully into effect MdTA will waive the fees on tolls unpaid as of July 1.

Customers with toll debts in Maryland can pay in the following ways:
  • at ezpassmd.com
  • by check/money order payable to E-ZPass Maryland to PO Box 17600, Baltimore, MD 21297
  • by stopping in at an E-ZPass Maryland Stop-In Center
  • by calling 1-888-321-6824  E-ZPass Maryland Customer Service Center during regular business hours 7am - 6pm Mon-Fr
The state says it is owed $6.7million in unpaid tolls.  This number has substantially increased since the opening of the ICC, which has an All Electronic Tolling (AET) and does not allow cash payments.  Non-EZPass are billed using video tolling systems.  The MDTA is "studying the feasibility of removing toll plazas and using AET at its other toll facilities.", and thus not allowing cash payments at other locations.  The TollRoadNews.com website states that the I-95 toll express lanes north of the Baltimore harbor tunnels will be AET when they open next year.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Attorney Argues Damascus Camera Tickets Should be Refunded

An attorney who successfully contested a Montgomery County speed camera tickets is arguing that all tickets from the location should be considered invalid.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Greenbelt Says Brekford's Speed Cameras Certifications Were "Not In Compliance"

The City of Greenbelt is asking Brekford Corp to refund 664 speed camera citations after finding that the devices did not meet a requirement of state law for annual calibration.

In a letter between Police Chief James Craze and Brekford CEO  C.B. Brechin, the chief wrote:
"It has come to our attention through Mr. Eric Weisz, Program Manager for the Brekford Corporation, tha two speed cameras (#07FDB5100 & 4EFEB512000) installed in Greenbelt by your company were not in compliance with certification by the manufacturer, to wit their certifications expired short of the one-year mandated requirement.  The dates spanned December 27, 2012 - Jan 23, 2013 for #07FDB1200 and January 21, 2013 - February 19, 2013.  The cameras are located on Cherrywood Lane and Hanover Parkway.  The result of this error caused 664 citations to be issued in error."

The City is asking Brekford to refund or void all 664 citation at a cost of $26,560.  However Greenbelt is demanding that Brekford compensate the city for its cut of the lost revenue amounting to $15,936.

A similar refund was issued in Hagerstown Maryland in May.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Montgomery County Speed Camera Transforms Toyota into Dodge

A Montgomery County speed camera issued a citation to a vehicle traveling 34mph in a 35mph zone, with photos showing two different cars in the two images.

The incident was first reported to the Maryland Drivers Alliance by the recipient of the faulty citation, who did not want his last name used.  The citation was dated May 27, 2013 on the 9000 block of Georgia Avenue N/B.  The first photo, taken at 5/27/13 at 9:37:29am, depicts the ticket recipient's car: a blue Toyota traveling 34mph.  The second image taken at 10:01:39am (a 24 minute time difference), depicts a black dodge, with a speed of 53mph imprinted on the image data bar.
click to enlarge
The motorist had written to the county asking it be dismissed, and was sent a date for a court hearing for September.  The Maryland Drivers Alliance, with the motorist's permission, forwarded the information to Montgomery County police and requested the citation be voided.  The county agreed that the citation was in error and sent the driver a void letter including an apology.

Montgomery County stated to WTOP TicketBuster that the citation was reviewed twice before being issued, but admitted that neither of the two reviewers examined the images closely enough and will receive additional training.

Montgomery County claims the error was a result of 'back end processing' and not a malfunction of the device.  The official explanation provided to WTOP by Montgomery County Captain Tom Didone was:
"A technician took a test shot and mismatched it with an actual speeding violation, thus creating the possibility of having two different vehicles in one citation. Both the civilian pre-approver and the officer failed to capture this", he said.   
According to the investigation, an error caused the Georgia Avenue camera to go offline on May 27. A Xerox technician restarted the camera, then accidentally attached the test shot at 9:37 a.m. with the first violation afterward at 10:01 a.m. "
Montgomery County manages the program under contract with speed camera contractor Xerox Corporation, who is paid $16.25 for each fully paid citation.  The county avoids a provision in state law which says "If a contractor operates a speed monitoring system on behalf of a local jurisdiction, the contractor’s fee may not be contingent on the number of citations issued or paid." by asserting that the county, not Xerox, "operates" the cameras.  Although this conflicts with the meaning of the law as described by some state lawmakers and Governor O'Malley, courts have so far given speed camera programs a free pass on semantic games such as this.