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    Washington Examiner: D.C. expanding public surveillance camera net

    A few years ago, then-DC Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) unveiled plans for a city-wide surveillance system  (VIPS). At the time, the Washington Examiner reported: “The Video Interoperability for Public Safety system, or VIPS, links 5,200 District-owned closed-circuit television cameras within a single monitoring office under the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency. The goal: Assist Homeland Security ‘to rapidly identify and respond to emergency circumstances that occur within the District.’ Every camera in a school, in a jail cell, in a government building, outside a public housing project or attached to a traffic light has been integrated into the network. The police department’s crime cameras, which require passive monitoring only, are not included.” The Fenty administration gave the DC Council and the public little information on the project, and critics (including me) charged that it did not adequately address the substantial privacy and civil liberty questions that were raised.

    Now, the Washington Examiner reports that DC Mayor Vincent Gray (D) is seeking to expand the city’s camera surveillance system to watch the public.

    The city’s homeland security agency is planning to add thousands of security cameras from private businesses around the nation’s capital and the Metro system to the thousands of electronic eyes that authorities are already monitoring 24/7.

    D.C.’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency has already centralized the feeds from more than 4,500 cameras operated by the District’s department of transportation and school system. Those feeds are watched around the clock by officials from those departments who sit together in homeland security’s Joint All-Hazards Operation Center. […]

    But critics worry the District’s government might be going too far. […] “The D.C. effort to link public and private watching capabilities might be viewed as excessive,” said Jeffrey Rosen, a law professor at George Washington University who studies the balance between security and civil liberties. “It would make it hard to find a place in the city where people aren’t being watched by cameras.” […]

    Robyn Johnson, a spokeswoman from HSEMA, told The Washington Examiner that “the program has not expanded to include private businesses.” But, “We continue to explore this in a deliberative way.”

    A plan for 2011 submitted to the city administrator by HSEMA says the agency plans to centralize cameras at private businesses and those run by Metro and the D.C. Housing Authority. The plan doesn’t have a timeline, and Johnson said there isn’t one. […]

    When it was started in spring 2008, the program immediately met resistance from the D.C. Council. Some council members worried that the closed-circuit television system was put together too quickly and without consideration of how effective it would be in reducing crime or preventing terrorism. At-large Councilman Phil Mendelson, who oversees the homeland security agency, still has those concerns.

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