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Hello, Big Brother

By Staff | Feb 7, 2012

You’re driving down the road, singing along with “Red Solo Cup” on the radio, the sun is shining, life is good. Three weeks later, you open your mail and there is an envelope. Opening the envelope, you find a picture of you singing away, goofy look on your face, a smaller photo of the license plate of your vehicle, and a letter informing you that you are being ticketed for a speeding violation recorded by an automated camera system.

It’s not far-fetched it happens more often than you think, and that fact has lawmakers working to rein in the growth of speed camera and red-light cameras in Iowa. A House committee voted last week to ban all red-light and speed enforcement cameras, passing the measure on a 15-6 vote.

Of course, this is just the first salvo in the battle to eliminate what some communities are finding to be a fabulous cash cow.

For instance, Sioux City charges red-light violators $195 when caught by a traffic camera. Go to the other side of the state in Davenport and all citations issued through a traffic camera are capped at $65. Those fines are directed back to Davenport’s Public Safety system.

One thing to remember about these traffic and red light cameras is that the citation letters are not issued by the municipality. Instead, they are issued by a third-party firm that operates the cameras for the municipality.

Another thing to remember about a traffic camera ticket is that they are not considered moving violations, which would affect your drivers’ license. Instead, they are civil infractions, with the fines going to the municipality. The offense is not reported to the Iowa Department of Transportation. That doesn’t sit too well with the Department of Transportation, who oversees drivers’ licensing.

It also doesn’t sit too well with the state as a whole, as the state gets a percentage of traffic violation fines that are written under state codes. But when a ticket is a municipal charge, the state goes away empty-handed.

Anyhow, the idea of a camera enforcing laws smacks of something out of George Orwell’s classic, “1984” where “Big Brother” is constantly watching the population.

In today’s society, countless video monitoring systems are in use in our communities. Some are used for law enforcement purposes, to watch for criminal activity. Others are used to monitor traffic flows, to address problems should they arise. Others are used to provide security. As a whole, camera systems are beneficial.

If the ban on traffic cameras were approved by the Legislature, traffic cameras that could issue tickets would be a thing of the past. However, cameras mounted in law enforcement vehicles and school buses would still be allowed.

It would appear that some communities looked only at the possible financial gain from the cameras, and gave no consideration to a person’s right to face their accuser when accused of wrongdoing.

After the House committee vote last week, one member of the committee noted that the public’s freedoms are being taken away bit by bit, and when people think about living in a camera surveillance state, they get passionate about their rights. I would have to agree wholeheartedly.