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Iowa City officials praise surveillance after Boston Marathon bombing

BY BRENT GRIFFITHS | APRIL 26, 2013 5:00 AM

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Iowa City activists are seeking 400 more signatures to bring the privacy debate to the forefront in Iowa City — a debate that has only intensified with actions taken in Boston in response to the Boston Marathon bombing.

“I don’t think it changes our view as having cameras didn’t prevent this from happening,” said Aleksey Gurtovoy, who’s leading efforts on a local petition attempting to ban red-light cameras in Iowa City. “Why do we have a problem with terrorists or just any tragedy happening? … Indications are that there is a larger story, and we need to a take a step back and look in the mirror.”

Conversely, local officials tout the effectiveness of some security measures as a result of the FBI’s work on the case.

“The video images we saw on national TV solved [the case],” said Iowa City Police Chief Sam Hargadine. “It’s a classic example of how surveillance can help in a time of crisis.”

Martha Hampel and Gurtovoy are trying to pass a petition banning the use of red-light cameras, drones, and automatic license-plate recognition systems. City officials said there were not enough valid signatures when they submitted their petition, so they have to obtain 400 more signatures by April 30.

“In case the city strikes out one-third [of the signatures] again, we plan on getting more than 400,” Gurtovoy said. “Before we submit, we also plan on going the extra mile to do the verification against the voter registrations ourselves … we don’t want to have any surprises.”

Hargadine said he believes there is a place for red-light cameras, and believes they could potentially even save lives if implemented in Iowa City. While he doesn’t necessarily agree with the arguments against the cameras, he questions the inclusion of a drone ban.

“We’re not looking into getting [a drone],” he said. “Honestly, that debate is a whole lot of worry about nothing.”

One city councilor said she does not support surveillance cameras, although she recognizes that sometimes they can be “helpful tool.”

“I have never been for surveillance cameras on public property, and I never approved traffic-control cameras,” City Councilor Connie Champion said.

Beyond the petition drive, the debate over privacy and surveillance has grown even greater with the steps state and local governments took during a search for the Marathon bombing suspects, including “locking down” the Boston metro area. Hargadine said incidents such as those in Boston require officials to “walk a fine line” when it comes to what steps need to be taken to protect the public.

Hargadine said policies such as citywide curfews would be directed from Gov. Terry Branstad and other officials.

A local transportation official said local law enforcement would provide the direction on when to suspend service. In the event of a sudden incident, the central hub has the capabilities to reach all buses simultaneously and would give instructions from there, and the focus would be on spreading the word about the status of the bus service quickly.

“The city …would put out its own press releases, but we would post on eBongo and our website,” said Chris O’Brien, director of city transportation services. “We would also send out transit alerts and try to post signs at stops if possible.”


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