- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 17, 2002

The American Civil Liberties Union won't be satisfied with citywide camera surveillance unless there are legal restrictions, with civil and criminal penalties for abuse.
The ACLU was prompted to hold a round table yesterday on civil liberties after D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams said he wants neighborhood surveillance cameras similar to those in Sidney, Australia, and in London in the District. Executive Assistant Chief Terrance W. Gainer, who attended the session, told The Washington Times yesterday that D.C. police completed on Friday a preliminary list of restrictions on camera surveillance.
"I did get the first draft of policy and regulations yesterday, and they are very similar to what the ACLU recommendations were," said Chief Gainer.
He said neither he nor the Metropolitan Police Department Chief Charles H. Ramsey support constant monitoring of the city via cameras. But, he said, two years ago the cameras helped nab several men who were breaking into cars.
Forcing the city to draft bills to restrict police use of cameras, Chief Gainer said, is too time-consuming. "I think that trying to force constitutional changes or legislative changes for a policy issue is inefficient."
Civil liberties groups disagreed.
Johnny Barnes, ACLU executive director for the National Capital Area, said that guidelines and regulations often are ignored.
"We need laws and we will call on the D.C. Council over the next few weeks to come up with legislative restrictions," Mr. Barnes said.
He said there is a danger in relying on policy restrictions. The penalties handed out to police using the cameras to spy on people, in the manner of voyeurs, could be handled in-house and the public would never know of it.
Without a law, "there is also no guarantee the officer will be punished by his superiors," Mr. Barnes said.
Other civil liberties activists offered as examples of possible misuse corrupt motor vehicle workers selling licenses and corrupt police officers using wire taps to spy on people.
Chief Gainer urged people not to use extremes to make their cases. He said the civil libertarians' "notions of extremes" such as officers watching women or using cameras to spy on their girlfriends is leading to stereotyping, making discussion on camera-related issues and privacy concerns difficult and slanted.
"The people need to make up their minds and let us know what it is they want from us in monitoring and enforcement," Chief Gainer said.
Jeffrey Rosen, a George Washington University law professor, said "systematic camera surveillance" will only be useful for petty crimes and will do nothing to stop terrorism.
But Chief Gainer said the argument went against the premise of community law enforcement.
"No one is telling me to stop international terrorism. They want crime stopped in their neighborhoods," he said.
The chief added that the usefulness of the cameras should not be judged on catching a "terrorist putting a bomb on a doorstep."
"What can't be seen is that the camera may have prevented them from doing it [in the first place]. You can't quantify that," he said.


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