Iowa City group seeks signatures on red-light camera petition


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The University of Iowa Young Americans for Liberty student organization has teamed up with a community group called Stop Big Brother to petition against red-light cameras, drones, and other traffic-surveillance technology.

The petition began in response to an ordinance passed last year allowing traffic officials to install automated red-light cameras.

The groups petitioned at the IMU twice this week and will continue to reach out to students and the community until their April 1 deadline.

Joey Gallagher, the president of Young Americans for Liberty, said the combined effort was a natural step for the two organizations. So far, he believes students have generally been receptive.

“We’re getting pretty good reception from students in the IMU,” he said. “We’ve gotten over 100 signatures in just one afternoon.”

The groups need 2,500 signatures to submit the petition to the Iowa City City Council; they currently have almost 1,000, said Martha Hampel, who cowrote the petition.

Hampel said traffic surveillance technology is not for Iowa City.

“We feel Iowa City likes to follow national trends, considering Cedar Rapids uses license-plate-tracking technology now,” she said. “Cedar Rapids is a good example of what we don’t want.”

In a January 2012 Daily Iowan article, Police Chief Sam Hargadine explained why the cameras are beneficial. According to Hargadine, cameras prevent crashes and improve pedestrian safety. He noted that an Iowa City police survey found that some red lights were run up to 300 times a day.

“With the [University of Iowa], we’ve got about 30,000 pedestrians around,” he said. “When you have that dense number of pedestrians and with that number of people [running red lights], that’s an unsafe condition.”

The Iowa Department of Transportation has recently stepped into the issue as well. According to the Gazette, the Iowa DOT is requesting a greater amount of data concerning traffic and crash history at intersections involving highways.

The Iowa Legislature has also debated bans on red-light cameras in the past, but with no outcome.

Iowa has no state law pertaining to speed cameras or red light cameras, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. More than half of the states across the country do not have state laws permitting red-light camera use.

In a recent Des Moines Register poll, 50 percent of Iowa  respondents favor a ban on red-light cameras, and 43 percent oppose a ban.

Currently, Iowa City has no red-light cameras installed.

Stop Big Brother has reached out to the Johnson County Republican and Democratic central committees and received support from both, Hampel said.

“It’s basically a nonpartisan issue,” she said.

The group is working on holding a forum about the matter of surveillance technologies with members from both political parties and someone from the opposition. They currently have weekly meetings at the Iowa City Public Library, 123 S. Linn St., to address these concerns.

In addition to red-light cameras, the group is worried about the use of drones.

Some law-enforcement agencies from around the country have started to use drones for traffic enforcement. One company that makes these drones has moved to Cedar Rapids, which prompted the addition of drones to Stop Big Brother’s agenda.

These drones can be used to collect traffic information and data about “suspicious vehicles.”

“Generally, the more data a government collects, the more effective it can be in stopping crimes,” said Aleksey Gurtovoy, who cowrote the petition. “The problem is it’s not balanced by privacy rights or due-process rights.”

Stop Big Brother fears the technology would lead to unintended consequences. Until regulations and laws catch up with the new devices, there say there is a possibility for misuse.

“They could implement this technology and say it’s for a particular purpose, and store that information, and then use it later for something else,” Hampel said.

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