- The Washington Times - Friday, February 15, 2002

The chairwoman of a House subcommittee on the District said yesterday that she will hold a hearing on the citywide surveillance system being developed by D.C. police because she is worried about encroachments on civil liberties.
"I am holding this hearing out of my concern that the pendulum between security and privacy is beginning to swing too far in one direction," said Rep. Constance A. Morella, Maryland Republican, who heads the House Government Reform subcommittee on the District.
She said she will hear testimony in the near future to examine the District's efforts to create the nation's largest network of surveillance cameras, which would be able to monitor shopping areas, schools, subway stations and federal buildings around the city.
The Metropolitan Police Department plans to link hundreds of cameras already in place around the city and install dozens more. It has operated 12 cameras near federal buildings and monuments around the Mall since September 11.
D.C. police started using red-light traffic cameras in 1999, surveillance cameras for crowd control during the International Monetary Fund and World Bank protests in April 2000, and photo-radar cameras to catch speeding motorists in August.
"These surveillance programs are advancing without the appropriate and necessary public debate about their consequences," Mrs. Morella said.
This week, her office began compiling data for a study of the District's automated traffic-enforcement program. The information collected will be part of a report she will use for the hearing on electronic surveillance.
Neither a date for the hearing nor a witness list has been set.
The subcommittee wants to find out how and why the D.C. police chose the enforcement zones, who is getting the tickets and how the tickets are processed and appealed, said Rob White, spokesman for the subcommittee.
Mrs. Morella began receiving letters and e-mails from Maryland and Virginia residents about the camera enforcement as more tickets were issued, he said.
"It is pretty obvious there are some flaws in the way the program is implemented and how the tickets are appealed," Mr. White said. "There have to be some safeguards here to make sure there is fair due process."
Plans to expand video surveillance sparked outrage among civil liberties groups, who alluded to George Orwell's picture of a totalitarian state in his novel "1984."
"If we do not stand up and decry no, condemn this expansion, we will have mission creep in the United States," said Johnny Barnes, director of the National Capital Area chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Kevin Watson of the Law Enforcement Alliance of America said police must be able to explain the need for more surveillance.
"They better demonstrate [the expanded surveillance] is necessary and effective and how they plan to counteract the proven trends of abuse," Mr. Watson said.
Executive Assistant Chief Terrance W. Gainer yesterday conceded that more surveillance would upset some people, but he defended the police department's plan as necessary to fight crime.
"This type of scrutiny probably spooks people a little bit," Chief Gainer told Reuters news agency. "We need to use all the technology we can within the law to maximize our effectiveness, and that includes cameras."
Chief Gainer said the department welcomes suggestions on anti-abuse controls and is canvassing neighborhoods and businesses to gauge support for expanded camera monitoring.
"We're being very open. We're not acting as secret snoops. … We'll let you know where our speed cameras are, and we'll let you know that in various places in public areas we're going to watch what's going on."
D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat, said she will include questions about civil liberties infringements when she holds her Judiciary Committee hearing on police performance Feb. 25, her spokeswoman, Penny Pagano, said.
Mrs. Morella has specific questions she wants addressed, according to a statement, including: "Under what authority are these cameras being set up? What are their exact purposes? Who views the pictures? What are they looking for?"


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