Monday, July 19, 2004

Hundreds of federal and local surveillance cameras will be used to watch for terrorist and criminal activity at the Democratic National Convention next week in Boston.

The Coast Guard will use night-vision cameras and infrared imaging to monitor Boston Harbor and the Charles River, and some police on the street will carry hand-held devices to view live video feeds.

Authorities also will be able to view and control about 75 state-of-the-art video cameras installed at six federal buildings near the convention center.

Hundreds of cameras used by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, port authority, highway department and the Big Dig, a massive underground road construction project, will be available to law-enforcement officials by request.

Officials in the Homeland Security Operations Center will be monitoring security cameras in the Tip O’Neil and John F. Kennedy federal buildings, as well as the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse, said Ronald Libby, New England regional director for the Federal Protective Service.

“The cameras are there for regular law enforcement capacity. If they allow us to prevent a terrorist attack, great; if we stop a street crime, great,” Mr. Libby said.

Tapes from the cameras will be retained only in the event of a crime.

He said the Oklahoma City bombing case might have been solved quickly had the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building been monitored with video cameras. “The wireless technology sends images over the Internet and the Oklahoma bombing video image could have been retrieved and every law-enforcement officer would be looking for the suspect who walked away from the truck,” Mr. Libby said.

Privacy advocates are concerned about a lack of oversight.

“It will probably be the largest use of surveillance cameras by police agencies in American history,” said Barry Steinhardt, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s technology and liberty program. “It’s a massive system of video surveillance.”

Boston is installing 30 cameras near the Fleet Center and will continue to use the cameras after the convention, the Boston Globe reported.

Calls to the Boston Police Department were not returned.

More than $50 million is being spent on security for the national party convention, the first since the September 11 attacks. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has warned that terrorists might try an attack to disrupt the political process.

Mr. Libby rejected concerns about privacy violations, saying the cameras will be used only in public areas.

“You have been told you are under surveillance and it is clearly posted when you enter federal property,” he said. ” If you don’t want to be on [cameras], you probably should not come.”

The hand-held devices and others installed in police cruisers would allow officers called to the scene to see immediately what is happening.

Federal buildings cover 27 million square feet in the downtown area near the Fleet Center. The John F. Kennedy Federal Office Building has 2,500 employees and 4,000 visitors daily.

The cameras have the capacity to turn right and left, zoom in and out and “pick up a face or license plate if it was of interest,” Mr. Libby said.

Federal cameras will not be used when Republicans gather next month in New York because no federal buildings are near the convention site, said Marc Raimondi, spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Manhattan.

“We have major federal facilities literally inches away from the Fleet Center,” Mr. Raimondi said. “Our approach is quite different in New York, where there are 40,000 police officers.”

Boston has 2,700 police officers.

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