Iowa City Stands Against National Security Regime

On the first reading the bill passed unanimously. It has to undergo a second and third reading to become a city ordinance. If it becomes law it will be the first city ordinance of its kind, simultaneously restricting red light cameras, drone surveillance, and automated license plate readers. Law professor and privacy expert, Woodrow Hartzog, from the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University, told Ars Technica:

“This ordinance would seemingly prevent a host of activities deemed dubious by some citizens, including tickets from red light cameras and automated tickets for moving violations issued via the mail. The ordinance also provides robust privacy protections for citizens by limiting the storage, use, and distribution of data collected by these automated systems to reasons directly pertaining to traffic or other criminal violations enforced by an officer on the scene. This ordinance is one of the most comprehensive and vigorous attempts I’ve seen to combat automated law enforcement and surveillance, a practice that is being increasingly rejected by citizens over privacy and due process concerns, among other things.”

The bill, as currently drafted, contains the following:

“The City shall not: A. Use any automatic traffic surveillance system or device, automatic license plate recognition system or device, or domestic drone system or device for the enforcement of a qualified traffic law violation, unless a peace officer or Parking Enforcement Attendant is present at the scene, witnesses the event, and personally issues the ticket to the alleged violator at the time and location of the vehicle.”

Hartzog said he thought the bill was unique in requiring an officer at the scene. “That’s going beyond merely keeping an official ‘in the loop,’ for example, by being at a remote terminal reviewing potential or questionable citations.”

The bill started as a petition drive to get an ordinance banning red light cameras by an advocacy group called StopBigBrother.org. As the group got signatures they expanded their aim to include drones and license plate readers. There were no plans for using such devices in Iowa City but the group wanted to be “proactive.”

I realize that red light cameras are not considered an immoral violation of rights by many people. But we live in a country where police can take the DNA of non-criminals and our phone records are handed over to the NSA for data mining. Even if red-light cameras can be defended on their own terms, shouldn’t we be concerned about how those cameras might be used in the future once they are installed?

Also, I have friends living in areas with red light cameras that tell me a picture of your car is sent to you and treated as proof of your personal guilt when obviously it proves nothing of the kind. It basically intimidates people to admit guilt by sending back the form with the bribe fine. One friend simply refuses to acknowledge the receipt of such notices since there is no evidence who was driving his vehicle and such a picture cannot possibly constitute proof of a crime against him. So these cameras seem to fudge the basic burden of proof required to prosecute.

All I can say is that it is nice to see federalism work in resisting the surveillance state. I hope and pray that the ordinance passes for Iowa City and that Iowa City becomes an example for many other cities.