District Forging Surveillance Network

More good news on the Big Brother Front. No, I'm not kidding. Done properly, this program only makes good sense. If you want to criticize somebody, might I offer up the name of Osama bin Laden for his loathsome contribution to bringing the New World Order to "America the Paranoid (if you hate surveillance)" one quickening pulse at a time.

Or America the Naive (if you hate to think critically), take your pick.

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THE DC GOVERNMENT IS launching a system today that would tie together thousands of city-owned video cameras, but authorities don't yet have the money to complete the high-tech network or privacy rules in place to guide it.

The system will feature round-the-clock monitoring of the closed-circuit video systems run by nine city agencies. In the first phase, about 4,500 cameras trained on schools, public housing, traffic and government buildings will feed into a central office at the D.C. Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Hundreds more will be added this year.

By making all those images available under one roof, officials hope to increase efficiency and improve public safety and emergency response. But civil libertarians and D.C. Council members say the network is being rushed into place without sufficient safeguards to protect privacy.

"The planning has been wholly lacking," said council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), chairman of the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, who plans to hold a hearing on the project.

With its vast reach, the system underscores how security cameras have multiplied since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. By this fall, the District will have installed about 5,600 closed-circuit cameras, about triple the number it had in 2001. Tens of thousands of other cameras have popped up at monuments, banks, stores and other places.

Elsewhere, New York has announced a network of 3,000 public and private cameras to protect Lower Manhattan. Chicago's emergency management office will soon have access to more than 6,000 cameras run by schools, police and other agencies.

The boom has been fueled by technological advances that make it easy to install cameras and search video. But U.S. cities—and D.C. government agencies—have varying rules on the cameras' use.

The D.C. attorney general's office is working on a policy to protect privacy rights, but it will not be completed by the system's launch, said Darrell Darnell, head of the city's homeland security agency. The agencies involved will follow their own rules in the meantime, he said. They vary on such matters as how long images are kept.

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