The Washington Post reports that “Metro officials are preparing to install video cameras on an unspecified number of rail cars, the first step in what could become a systemwide surveillance network that officials say will help them better manage crowds and investigate criminal activity.” A portion of the funding for the surveillance cameras (also called Closed Circuit Television or CCTV) comes from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Metro Transit Police Deputy Chief Jeff Delinski said the primary purpose of these cameras is for crowd control, despite the fact that the money comes from a transit security program. Metro briefly put cameras on a handful of rail cars in summer 2006 to see how customers would respond to experimental designs and technology. […]
Delinski wouldn’t say when cameras might be installed or where they will go. […]
Officials in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, New Jersey, Atlanta and Boston are also embracing surveillance cameras, [said Greg Hull, director of security and operations for a transportation industry trade group.]
The Post notes that surveillance cameras placed in Maryland’s public trains and buses “arrive from the manufacturer equipped with cameras that can record video and audio. The video cameras are on when a bus is in operation, but the agency keeps the microphones turned off for privacy reasons.” In July, Maryland’s acting transportation director came out against audio surveillance of the public.
Last year, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty proposed a city-wide camera surveillance network, the Video Interoperability for Public Safety system. VIPS is a massive centralized surveillance system that would allow the DC Homeland Security agency to link and watch more than 5,200 cameras in District schools, public housing, the parks, streets, and more. The program was announced on April 8, 2008, without any input from either the public or the DC Council.
The Fenty administration said the surveillance system would be used even though no regulations were in place to safeguard individuals’ privacy and civil rights. After the April 8 announcement of the program, the DC Council denied District funding for it, but the Fenty administration went ahead with the centralized, city-wide surveillance system using funds from the federal Department of Homeland Security.
I haven’t heard any updates on this city-wide surveillance camera network since November, when DC offered proposed regulations for the system. There were numerous problems with those proposed regulations, which had few changes from the emergency rules that were self-imposed by the Fenty administration in June. In the November proposed regulations, the Fenty administration did not address the substantial privacy and civil liberty questions that were raised by me and other privacy and civil liberties advocates.