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Traffic cameras, drone technology put to a stop

BY ROBERT CROZIER | JUNE 19, 2013 5:00 AM

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The issue of red light cameras have been put to a stop in Iowa City, for a while at least.

The Iowa City City Council unanimously passed an ordinance Tuesday that prevents municipal officials from using automatic traffic-enforcement systems, license-plate-recognition systems, or drones for the next two years.

City staff members requested expedited action on the item’s second consideration after the city councilors unanimously approved the first consideration during a June 5 meeting.

The ordinance was passed without any discussion, and no members of the community stepped forward for public input.

The decision came after the group Stop Big Brother submitted a petition with more than 4,000 signatures requesting the ban. In a May 10 interview with the DI, City Clerk Marian Karr said she verified more than the 2,500 signatures required for the petition to be considered valid.

The City Charter requires City Council to promptly consider a measure on which a valid petition has been submitted; if the council doesn’t pass the measure, it must be submitted to the voters in a citywide election.

“We are very excited to have closure to this,” Stop Big Brother cofounder Aleksey Gurtovoy said, calling the meeting a formality.

While he was at the meeting, Gurtovoy said, the measure’s supporters elected not to speak during the public-input session because their thoughts were made known during a previous session.

Nonetheless, he said, he would have liked to see the measure go to a public ballot.

“If it goes to the ballot … and the majority of Iowa City supports the ban, then two years down the road, if it get’s brought up, they would think twice before deciding to scrap it,” he said.

In a May 10 interview with the DI, City Attorney Eleanor Dilkes said the current intersections in which the technology would have been used are under the supervision of the state.

For Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek, Tuesday evening’s decision had little effect on his agency.

“If suddenly I had a drone for the Sheriff’s Office, and I had some sort of operation, and I was doing it in Iowa City, I don't know that [City Council] would have that authority to prevent the county government from using drones,” he said. “This is all hypothetical, of course … I don’t anticipate that happening. The Sheriff’s Office doesn’t have a drone. We don’t plan on buying a drone. I’ve never heard of any law-enforcement agency in this area ever talking about buying a drone.”

And despite the victory Tuesday, Gurtovoy said, the Stop Big Brother may mull the future uses of other drones.

“Our mission at large is to curtail the spread of the surveillance state, but right now we are focusing on video surveillance specifically, because that’s where we see the most aggressive advances locally,” he said.


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