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HR groups alarmed over surveillance in Washington

by DAWN
12:55pm Wed Feb 20 '02

One of the first uses of police surveillance cameras in Washington was April 2000, when authorities set up a network to monitor protests during a meeting of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank

HR groups alarmed over surveillance in Washington
NEW YORK, Feb 13: Washington police are building what will be the nation's biggest network of surveillance cameras to monitor shopping areas, streets, monuments and other public places in the US capital , a move that worries civil liberties groups, The Wall Street Journal said on Wednesday.

The system would eventually include hundreds of cameras, linking existing devices in Metro mass transit stations, public schools and traffic intersections to new digital cameras mounted to watch over neighbourhoods and shopping districts, the Journal said.

"In the context of Sept 11, we have no choice but to accept greater use of this technology," Stephen Gaffigan, the head of the police department project, told the Journal.

He said city officials had studied the British surveillance system, which has more than two million cameras throughout the country, and were "intrigued by that model."

One of the first uses of police surveillance cameras in Washington was April 2000, when authorities set up a network to monitor protests during a meeting of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, the newspaper said.

On Tuesday, in response to the latest terror alert issued by the Justice Department, police activated a 7 million dollars command center that was first used on Sept 11. The command center, which has dozens of video stations for monitoring cameras, will remain in use until federal officials end the alert, the Journal reported.

Cameras installed by the police have been programmed to scan public areas automatically, and officers can take over manual control if they want to examine something more closely.

The system currently does not permit an automated match between a face in the crowd and a computerized photo of a suspect, the Journal said. Gaffigan said officials were looking at the technology but had not decided whether to use it. Eventually, images will be viewable on computers already installed in most of the city's 1,000 squad cars, the Journal said.

The Journal said the plans for Washington went far beyond what was in use in other US cities, a development that worries civil liberties advocates.

Barry Steinhardt, associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union in New York, noted there were few legal restrictions of video surveillance of public streets. But he said that by setting up a "central point of surveillance," it becomes likely that "the cameras will be more frequently used and more frequently abused."

"You are building in a surveillance infrastructure, and how it's used now is not likely how it's going to be used two years from now or five years from now," he told the Journal.-Reuters

www.dawn.com/2002/02/14/int6.htm
 
 

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