The Los Angeles TImes has written a story about D.C.’s expanding video surveillance network: Washington, D.C., puts itself under surveillance.
From a dimly lit room in a secure command center, 21 streaming video feeds from 4,775 surveillance cameras around the nation’s capital are projected across three screens and monitored at all hours. Every few seconds, footage from a different location pops up — a busy road, a picnic bench, the entrance to the new baseball stadium.
Seven years after the Sept. 11 attacks, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty is trying to set up one of the most comprehensive centrally controlled visual surveillance systems in the world. In the nerve center, which opened last month, the city’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency can monitor video from four city agencies — covering streets, schools, housing projects, parks and roads — for threats and other nefarious activities.
However, the regulations to manage this massive surveillance system are not yet complete even though D.C. Homeland Security officials are already using this network. “Darrell L. Darnell, director of the agency that runs the new monitoring center, told the council: ‘All policies are still in draft and awaiting formal legal review.'”
The D.C. Council was not consulted and has raised significant privacy and civil liberty questions. Various advocacy groups have spoken out against the massive surveillance network. I have discussed it extensively and my take on it was summed up in my testimony to the Council earlier this month: “Before the Video Interoperability for Public Safety Program is deployed, the District government must answer the questions that have been raised here today. District residents deserve to know if this program would in fact improve their safety or if it is yet another attempt to slap a Band-Aid on a gushing wound and call the problem solved.”