- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 23, 2002

Congress will have to set limits on law enforcement agencies' growing use of surveillance cameras, the chairman of a House subcommittee said yesterday.
"I think we will need legislation in the form of general policies on video surveillance," Rep. Constance A. Morella said during a hearing of the House Government Reform subcommittee on the District.
Federal and local law enforcement officials yesterday were unable or unwilling to answer questions about exactly how, when and where surveillance cameras would be placed and operated throughout the District as a means of carrying out plans to increase security in the city.
D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District's nonvoting representative in Congress, expressed irritation about several federal officials not showing up to testify before the subcommittee.
"It is particularly unjustifiable that nearly all the federal officials invited to testify today have declined," said Mrs. Norton, the panel's ranking Democratic member.
Officials from the Office of Homeland Security, Justice Department, FBI, U.S. Capitol Police and Secret Service, among others, did not appear to give testimony.
Mrs. Morella, Maryland Republican, called for the hearing last month after media reports that D.C. officials have planned to expand the city's use of cameras to create the most extensive surveillance network in the nation. The proposed network would link hundreds of cameras used by federal agencies, public schools, Metro and private companies to the Joint Operations Command Center at Metropolitan Police Department headquarters.
The National Park Service is the latest federal agency to get on the surveillance bandwagon. Park Service officials plan to begin 24-hour, closed-circuit television observation of the major monuments on and around the Mall by October.
The plan involves placing cameras inside and outside monuments to monitor activities, said John G. Parsons, associate Park Service director for the National Capital Region.
Testifying before the subcommittee, Mr. Parsons said the monuments are "icons of democracy and, thus, hot targets for terrorist attacks." But he could not answer questions about how many cameras would be used, where they would be placed, how they would be operated or how long the videotape footage would be kept before it is erased.
"We simply haven't gotten that far in the planning process," Mr. Parsons told the lawmakers, adding that the surveillance system would cost about $3 million to install.
The D.C. Department of Public Works is planning to use a network of 700 cameras to monitor city streets for traffic control in case of a citywide evacuation. "We are discussing using cameras on roads in places like Rock Creek Park with the Department of Public Works," Mr. Parsons said yesterday.
Civil libertarians have criticized the surveillance plans as an invasion of privacy. The American Civil Liberties Union, after touring the police command center last month, asked that police officials develop within 30 days a list of policy restrictions on the use of cameras.
Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey yesterday told the lawmakers that a draft of the restrictions was completed last week and is being reviewed by police officials before forwarding it to the D.C. Council next week.
He said police are considering restricting their custody of tapes to 72 hours when they begin recording. "To date, we have not recorded anything because there is no policy," Chief Ramsey said.


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

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide