On Tuesday evening, Iowa City is scheduled to hold the first reading (PDF) of what is likely the firstmunicipal bill anywhere in the country to simultaneously ban the local use of drones, license plate readers, and red-light cameras—three tools increasingly used by law enforcement and often fraught with privacy-related controversy.
The ordinance is the result of a local petition brought forward by a citizen group that originally began as a referendum on red light cameras. Iowa City is the only municipality in the state that allows for local petitions to turn into ordinances that will be brought before the city council. Some states have similar lawmaking procedures at the state-level, but Iowa does not.
As currently drafted, the bill reads:
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
Aleksey Gurtovoy of StopBigBrother.org, a local group spearheading the initiative, told Ars that initially the petition was just focused on red-light cameras. It was subsequently expanded to be “proactive.”
“The city might say they have no plans [for drones or license plate readers] but it’s been our experience that this can change in a very short amount of time,” he said. “What usually happens is that someone comes into the city and says that [the city] could use this tech to ‘benefit’ the public.”
The city attorney, Eleanor Dilkes, told Ars that she expected the ordinance to pass the first reading tonight, as well as the second and third readings at the council meeting on June 18, 2013. If that does occur, the law would take effect on June 27, 2013. (UPDATE Wednesday 8:17am CT: According to a video posted online by Gurtovoy’s group, the ordinance did pass the first reading, unanimously, on Tuesday evening.)
“The city manager and I talked and that was the recommendation, as that it does not affect our current operations and that it’s only binding after a period of two years,” Dilkes said, explaining that indeed, the city has no plans to purchase drones or license plate readers at the moment.
Dilkes added that city does want to use LPRs for parking enforcement purposes. Red light cameras, meanwhile are under attack across the Hawkeye State.