- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 10, 2004

Baltimore and Maryland homeland security authorities say they will have a 24-hour network of surveillance cameras operating this summer.

“The idea is that this is the first phase of building a backbone that will tie together different resources,” said Dennis R. Schrader, director of homeland security for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican.

Mr. Schrader said the March 11 train bombings in Madrid reinforced to officials the fact that Baltimore has one the nation’s major ports so it should be protected by one of the boldest surveillance initiatives in the country.

“We have to find creative ways to protect these critical assets,” Mr. Schrader said. “The fact of the matter is that we need regional cooperation in the war on terror.”

The city will be the first to enact a regional network that will eventually include Anne Arundel and Howard counties, and Baltimore County, Md., Carroll County, Md., and Harford County, Md.

The network of 20 to 30 cameras also would be able to connect with the state’s system of closed-circuit cameras monitoring highways.

Elliot Schlanger, chief information officer for Baltimore, said the network also could be linked to closed-circuit television systems at the University of Maryland, the Downtown Partnership, Oriole Park at Camden Yards and other private institutions.

The cameras will be able to transmit images to helicopters and eventually to police cruisers. Mr. Schlanger said they also will have biometric- and radiation-sensor capabilities and the capacity for face and license plate recognition.

“Our initial pilot project is to visually monitor the region’s critical infrastructure and assets,” he said. But “we are looking at acquiring equipment that can be updated with those options.”

Beginning this summer, the cameras will be installed at the Inner Harbor, then the city’s west side where light rail and Amtrak lines, federal and state government buildings and many cultural institutions are located.

The network is part of a comprehensive strategy in the Baltimore area to spend $25 million in homeland security grants this year and to improve regional cooperation on terrorism concerns.

The surveillance center will be manned by retired police officers or criminal justice college students.

The bidding process includes the price of installing the cameras, but the city must maintain them.

Cedric Laurant, policy counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said he is against video cameras in public places if they are “used on a permanent basis.”

Arthur Spitzer, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of the National Capital Area, agreed.

“This is just another step toward Big Brother,” he said. “One of the freedoms that Americans take for granted is the freedom to walk down the street without the government looking over their shoulders all of the time.”

Mr. Schlanger said the cameras would be used only to “observe what a citizen could view in the public space.”

A spokesman for Baltimore Mayor Martin J. O’Malley, a Democrat seeking re-election in November, said Mr. O’Malley was not available for comment but that he supports the program.

This story was based in part on wire service reports.

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