- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 20, 2002

D.C. police officials, responding to concerns about the Metropolitan Police Department's plans to operate a citywide surveillance system, said yesterday they would create internal policy restrictions to protect against the potential misuse of the cameras.
But civil libertarians say that does not go far enough.
"We want something that is legally enforceable, either statutory or in the form of binding regulations," said Barry Steinhardt, associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
A small delegation of local and national officials from the ACLU toured the department's Joint Operations Command Center yesterday. The ACLU questioned D.C. police officials in a closed-door meeting about the department's plan to link hundreds of cameras around the city to the central monitoring facility.
"Their biggest concern is what type of technology we have, what we are doing with it and where we are going," Executive Assistant Chief Terrance W. Gainer told The Washington Times.
D.C. police officials last week said they planned to link hundreds of cameras already in use by federal and D.C. agencies to the command center. Police also were looking at linking more than 200 cameras in Metrorail stations and putting cameras in D.C. public schools.
The announcement touched off a wave of criticism from local and national civil libertarian groups.
Chief Gainer said his office will complete a rough draft of specific guidelines by late next month on what officers can and cannot do when using the cameras.
"We agreed we would have a draft policy ready in 30 days, and we agreed that we need to do more as the technology improves," Chief Gainer said.
The D.C. police said they are open to suggestions from privacy advocates and civil libertarians concerned about the power the expanded surveillance would put in the hands of the police.
"We're looking forward to speaking with the ACLU about what we should be doing," Chief Gainer said. "The primary purpose of this meeting is to open up communication."
D.C. police have been using the cameras since 2000 to monitor the city during alerts or crises World Bank meeting protests and the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks. But the department now plans to upgrade the system from a dozen cameras to several hundred or more.
The ACLU also was concerned about comments from D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams on WTOP's "Ask the Mayor" show on Monday that seemed to indicate police would be putting cameras in city neighborhoods.
"There was a lot of discussion about cameras in neighborhoods like Georgetown that would like to feed their cameras into the system," Mr. Steinhardt said.
He said laws that protect privacy rights do not cover the extraordinary advances in surveillance technology.
"I think it is fair to say the guidelines for [camera surveillance] don't exist," Mr. Steinhardt said. "The technology does pose a threat to our privacy, and it's outpacing any legislation available."
D.C. police officials say they have no plans to put cameras in neighborhoods unless they are specifically asked to do so.
"The chief made it clear that we will not go into a neighborhood and say we want to put a camera here without having some dialogue and consensus first," said police spokesman Kevin Morison. "Other than the active discussions we have had with Georgetown businesses, we have not talked to neighborhoods."
Johnny Barnes, executive director for the ACLU National Capital Area, said the local chapter would ask Congress to consider legislation that would protect the rights of ordinary Americans from overly aggressive surveillance efforts.
Rep. Constance A. Morella, Maryland Republican, said last week she would hold a hearing in a House Government Reform subcommittee on the District's use of camera technology.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide