- The Washington Times - Monday, June 17, 2002

Every individual who lives in or visits the nation's capital is now an enemy of the state. Or so it seems. How else to explain the vast network of closed-circuit cameras that are popping up all over town? If you think this is hyperbolic rhetoric which is precisely what D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsey once called the debunking of his money-grubbing photo-radar program then, then next time you're in Georgetown, look atop the Banana Republic at M Street and Wisconsin Avenue. Still a doubter? Just ask yourself this question: Do you want a policeman watching as your little girl hitches her dress an inch or two as she adjusts her slip?
Spying on the public is big business in Washington, where Chief Ramsey's Metropolitan Police Department and more than 30 other law-enforcement agencies plan to hook up hundreds of cameras to monitor not just traffic, but schools, parks, subway stations and government institutions all in the name of public safety. They think the cameras make a nice fit with the ugly barricades and other symbols of a closed society that now dot Washington's landscape.
Most folks, though, should not be fooled. The emphasis placed on costly, sophisticated technology from rooftop transmission towers and tracking devices to photo-radar cameras is hardly a post-September 11 thing. Uncle Sam has been planning his omniscient reach for years. The horrific attacks of September 11 merely gave him what the news business calls a "time peg."
At spy central er, the high-tech command center local and federal officers and investigators collect an unprecedented amount of data, analyze it and then disseminate it to interested agencies. For example, electronic maps show the locations of emergency calls and patrol units, the crime history in a particular neighborhood and possible suspects. This can be useful in solving crimes. But the data can also cough up, with alarming quickness, personal information as well. In other words, think of "Enemy of the State," the action thriller that starred Will Smith, Gene Hackman and the menacing national security chief played by Jon Voight.
During a public hearing on Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP warned D.C. lawmakers about the possibilities of abuse, while the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center said that the benefits of video surveillance "have been significantly overstated." Private citizens, like Robert Wolf, a retired federal lawyer, decried the loss of privacy. Their complaints seem to have fallen upon the deaf ears of D.C. Council members Kathy Patterson and Carol Schwartz, who convened the hearing and have bought into the September 11 fear factor.
Dozens of agencies have access to the command center, the information and the video film as well. Who is in charge? What would happen if a sibling rivalry broke out between the Little Brothers who work for the local police department and the Big Brothers who work for Uncle Sam? Guess it's time to call on Congress to really and truly find out what's going on.

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