- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 10, 2000

Al Cam or Gore Watch? Oval Spy or Leader Live?
It may come to that one day. Yesterday, Vice President Al Gore allowed that he would consider placing a 24-hour Web cam inside the Oval Office, should he take up residence there next year.
"Maybe so," Mr. Gore said in an interview yesterday with Internet Life, an on-line magazine published by Yahoo, one of the world's busiest Internet portals.
"I don't want to commit to that because I want to think that through. Having been there for eight years, I know there are conversations about national security," Mr. Gore added.
In theory, a Web cam perched in the Oval Office would make the average citizen privy to pure politics an uncensored, real time version of NBC's much ballyhooed "The West Wing."
It would probably have lousy resolution, but that's part of the cachet. Web cams lend users the impression that they are spying on their subjects.
After an initial moment of mirth, Republican party officials offered no comment yesterday. One GOP wag suggested, however, that the Web cam be installed forthwith as a "pay-for-view, and thus wipe out the national debt."
A White House Web cam may one day be part of the legitimate political landscape.
Web cams were stationed on the floors of the Democratic and Republican conventions this summer. But their presence raises other questions.
"This is where political communications are going in the long run an ongoing, constant dialogue," said Phil Noble of PoliticsOnline, a South Carolina consulting group that studies the role of the Internet in campaigns and public outreach.
"There are more questions right now than answers," Mr. Noble said. "Should there be sound or censorship here? Should the camera always be on? Because he's even willing to talk about it, Mr. Gore proves he gets 'it' he understands the possibilities here."
So do several other people.
To date, there are three parody White House Web cams on the Internet, offering fake and often tasteless views of the "Oval Office," complete with Buddy the dog.
White House cameras are also part of the mythology at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. For years, tourists at the White House have wondered where the "secret" cameras and microphones, meant to monitor visitors, are hidden.
In reality, an Oval Office Web cam would be a relatively simple affair.
For the uninitiated, a Web cam is a baseball-sized video camera that uses special software to broadcast changing, live images to other home computers. One simply clicks on an icon, and voila a live shot from a college campus, a seaside boardwalk, a boudoir.
Thousands of commercial and amateur Web cams and their companion sites litter the Internet. At $100 or less, these cameras are cheap, easy to use and bring out the voyeur in just about everybody.
There's KremlinKam, right on Red Square in Russia. Web cams are stationed on cruise ships and in jails, baby cribs, diners, bars, refrigerators, public toilets, living rooms, bird feeders and hermit crab terrariums. There are ghost cams in haunted spots and earthquake cams fixed on official seismic recorders.
On the imaginative end, Taxi Cam, which is set inside a moving Manhattan cab, often includes interviews with riders. "Around the World in 80 Cams" does just that, using Web cams in different cities around the globe.
Things can get pretty nasty, though. Many Web cams offer X-rated material and endless commercial links. Others claim to be broadcasting from college dorm rooms and women's closets, exposing the supposed secrets of the young and restless.
Three years ago, a prototype version called Jenni Cam alerted the world to such possibilities. It became one of the most visited sites on the Web; the young lady in question now charges an admission fee to the site and has countless imitators.
For his part, Mr. Gore aspires to be a cyber kind of guy, despite the public and pundit merriment over his claim last year that he was responsible for creating the Internet itself. But he's not too keen on the personal technology aboard Air Force II, or when he is on the road noting that Internet access and the like can be "primitive" and "behind the curve."
Loose lips still sink ships, though. Web cams and high-level meetings don't mix.
"You wouldn't want the foreign leaders to know the exact time the meeting took place, because it might endanger our forces somehow," Mr. Gore said yesterday. "It may be a far-fetched example, but maybe not so far-fetched. I'd want to think about it."

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