- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 24, 2002

Several D.C. Council members, including Kathy Patterson and Adrian Fenty, have publicly expressed a newfound unease over the city's deployment of surveillance cameras and with good reason.
It's not well-known outside law-enforcement circles but, since last fall, a grid of cameras have been placed around the city in tandem with additional cameras installed near the Mall operated by the Park Police. These cameras feed real-time images into an Orwellian operations center, where the comings and goings of the public are monitored and recorded. President Bush, who recently visited the operations center, praised Mayor Williams and Police Chief Charles Ramsey for their good work which is hardly surprising considering the tens of millions of dollars in federal funds that help maintain it.
But Mr. Fenty and some other council members are apparently coming around to the view held by many that the supposed benefit in heightened security is not worth the price of a nascent surveillance state. "At first, I thought Washington, because it's prone to more terror attacks, would be a place where visitors would want cameras," Mr. Fenty said last week. "But I agree now with my colleagues who say Washington should be a beacon of freedom."
With most members of the council increasingly leery of the all-seeing cameras, action may soon be taken to get this well-intended but ominous program under control.
It may well turn out that such pro-Stalinist police techniques are the price of effective anti-terrorism security. If so, the public will have to decide whether that is too high a price to pay. We believe that freedom has its price an unusual risk of terrorism may have to be paid by all of us if we want to keep our freedoms. A very large part of the American way of life is the expectation that our activities are not constantly being scrutinized and pored over by agents of the state. But, should we experience a catastrophic terrorist attack, many more Americans would undoubtedly conclude that the price of that aspect of freedom may have been foolish.
For the time being, Mrs. Patterson has urged her colleagues to draft and pass a measure to kill the camera surveillance program entirely and it's an idea well worth considering. While Mrs. Patterson is not opposed to the use of cameras per se, she and others feel that strict and formal rules need to be promulgated defining exactly when, where and for what purpose cameras may be put into service. Under the current system, D.C. police have what amounts to carte blanche authority with little or no public oversight. That is not how an open society ought to work.
It's one thing to have a surveillance tool at the ready and to authorize use when a specific threat or condition warrants. It's quite another to blanket the city with electronic eyes to keep tabs on ordinary folks. We urge the council toward diligence on this issue.


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