Oregon fines man $500 for using math to challenge red-light cameras

It's a free-speech issue. And math is math, Oregon!

Few things in this world are as universally despised as traffic cameras. After his wife received a ticket for tripping a red-light camera, Oregon resident Mats Järlström openly criticized the Orwellian devices and the mathematical formulas used to time traffic lights. It seems Big Brother doesn't take too kindly to dissenters, as according to the Institute for Justice Järlström was fined $500 for violating a law that prohibits him from offering mathematical criticism without a license.

Free speech is a term that's often misconstrued. It's not some blanket to hide behind while spouting ridicule and hate to anyone and everyone. In the US, what free speech does protect is the right of a person to openly criticize the government, as Järlström was doing when he argued that the equation which governs the traffic light timers was out of date. After being fined, Järlström filed a lawsuit against what he called an "unconstitutional ban on mathematical debate.''

The Institute for Justice says the actual fine from the state engineering board was for Järlström calling himself an engineer. The thing is, Järlström does have a degree in electrical engineering and has worked in engineering jobs, but the problem is he doesn't carry a state license as a Professional Engineer. In Oregon's eyes, even his use of the word "engineer," lowercase, is appropriating a title, and he's not a real engineer.

Järlström's initial issue was that the green-yellow-red progression was too short for lights with a left or right turn. Using his engineering expertise, he researched the matter and began to criticize the math equation that governs this timing. In his view, he was doing research for free as a concerned citizen, with his background aiding the effort and lending credence to his findings.

But the board construed this as "practicing engineering without being registered," saying he had no standing to do the work or publish or present his data.

"I'm not practicing engineering, I'm just using basic mathematics and physics, Newtonian laws of motion, to make calculations and talk about what I found," Järlström said.

Järlström and the Institute for Justice claim these licensing boards violate free speech by fining those who criticize both the boards and the government agencies behind things like traffic cameras. Samuel Gedge, an attorney for the institute, made this point:

"Criticizing the government's engineering isn't a crime; it's a constitutional right. Under the First Amendment, you don't need to be a licensed lawyer to write an article critical of a Supreme Court decision. You don't need to be a licensed landscape architect to create a gardening blog, and you don't need to be a licensed engineer to talk about traffic lights.''

In other words, free speech, whether used to challenge Supreme Court decisions or traffic cameras, is a fundamental freedom granted by Constitution. And it's also no stretch to say that using mathematics is a fundamental human right - part of what actually makes us human. No law can take away our math.

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