- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 19, 2002

"Smile, you're on Candid Camera!" was once innocent fun; today, it's deadly serious and rather frightening. Not only are cameras being used as automated revenue-collectors via photo radar traps, but they're being employed to monitor and track us the moment we step outside our homes. Last week, this newspaper reported the nascent plans of the Metropolitan Police Department to establish city-wide surveillance. If that's not enough to alarm you, imagine these cameras tied to face-recognition technology and a computerized database that could identify each one of us, follow our individual movements and log all that information in an electronic library.

It's not only possible it's already being done in Tampa, Fla., and will be shortly, in Virginia Beach, Va., which recently received a $150,000 state grant of your taxpayer dollars for just that purpose. If not decisively stomped on before it gets a chance to take root, the use of high-tech cameras and face-recognition equipment will almost certainly spread. That would mean the establishment on American soil of the first e-tyranny the world has ever known.

Some of our elected officials, to their credit, have not been bamboozled. One such lawmaker is Delegate H. Morgan Griffith, Salem, Va., Republican, who authored a bill that would strictly limit the use of cameras and face-recognition technology to specific criminal suspects and even then, only with a court order that would be good for a finite period of time. "Without a law on the books to control this," Mr. Griffith told the Associated Press, " the government can do most anything. Authorities could use this technology to track people wherever they go. That's scary."

Mr. Griffith's legislation has already passed the Virginia House of Delegates and will hopefully make it through the Virginia Senate and eventually become law. However, the chairman of the Courts of Justice Committee, Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle, has already announced his opposition. Virginia's Democratic governor, Mark R. Warner is not apt to be an enthusiastic supporter of Mr. Griffith's bill, either. Still, we hope that common sense and a realistic appraisal of human nature, its flaws, and the utter foolishness of entrusting government with such broad-based power to stick its nose in our business will prompt lawmakers to stop this dangerous nonsense.

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