by Gregory Paul Johnson

Certain communities across America have long been recognized as ideal testing grounds for various commercial products and services as well as social programming studies. For example, when a new product is introduced, it is often introduced in a test market first. Iowa City is frequently chosen as a test market because of the diversity found in Iowa City’s population.

Iowa City was recently selected as one of few communities to test “red-light cameras.” A study recently done in Iowa shows that for an average intersection in Iowa City, there are about 3 traffic violations per hour involving people driving through red lights. The study was done using video cameras mounted at intersections. If you’ve been to Iowa City, you have probably seen surveillance cameras mounted on top of the traffic signals at selected intersections. These video cameras take your picture as you are driving through the intersection. The eventual goal is to allow law enforcement to utilize the video from these cameras to convict traffic offenders and presumably other offenses through “citizen surveillance.”

Iowa City makes an ideal test market for such social experiments that have potential privacy or civil rights implications. Iowa City is a bastion for ACLU-types and left wing radical thinkers. It is a liberal think tank and intellectual community. The Socialist Party and Green Party are strong and active in Iowa City. Iowa City has a proud history of standing up for civil liberties. Iowa City is one of the few communities in America designated as a Nuclear Free zone. Given this backdrop, it is surprising that nobody has commented about the cameras being installed all over Iowa City to conduct surveillance of local citizens.

There are some other interesting incidents and legislative landmarks that seem to have gone unnoticed by Iowa City’s liberal community:

(1) I know a woman who was recently riding her bike downtown. Apparently she was riding her bike in a ‘mobility restricted zone’ so she was aggressively handcuffed, humiliated, treated abusively, put in the back of a squad car, and detained, for riding her bike outside of authorized and designated areas. Nobody seems to be concerned about this. There has been no public outcry.

(2) The front page news of the Daily Iowan this past Friday was of a 23 year-old college student who had some overdue books from the library. The student was arrested by armed officers, he was charged with fourth degree theft, and he was put in jail on a $2,000 bond. An Iowa City police investigator confirmed that the law provides for such treatment of people who have overdue materials. Fourth degree theft is a serious misdemeanor punishable by up to a $1,500 fine and one year in jail. To my knowledge, there has been no community response to this story and nobody has expressed concern.

(3) Last month we reported on the establishment of legal ghettos in Iowa City. Those with certain criminal records are being told where they can and cannot live. They are being punished not because they are breaking any law currently, but because they are suspected of possibly breaking the law in the future. This is a practice similar to the concept presented in the movie The Minority Report. This will certainly impact land values now that the lines are drawn and criminal-free zones are being established. The only precedence for such legislation is probably that of Nazi Germany of World War II. To my knowledge this local legislation passed and has been implemented without any expression of concern on the part of the public.

(4) A friend of mine recently went to cash a check at a local bank. The person was asked to provide a thumb print before the transaction could be made and they were probably photographed as well.

The list goes on.

If a fascist, militant, high surveillance, police state can be established in Iowa City without any public outcry, concern, or comment, then it can likely be established anywhere in America.

We will keep you posted on further developments.

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* The above article appeared in the Resources for Life News for July 2002

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