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Ann Loikow, Cleveland Park Citizens Association
Testimony on Video Technology in Police Surveillance and Traffic Control
June 13, 2002




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Cleveland Park Citizens Association
P.O. Box 11444
Washington, DC 20008


June 13, 2002

The Cleveland Park Citizens Association (CPCA) was founded in 1911 to advance all public interests of its members in the District of Columbia, including public safety of its citizens. Like other citizens in the District, CPCA is concerned that the District's police force have all legitimate tools it needs, consistent with the Constitution, to protect the public safety.

The Association first became aware of the Metropolitan Police Department's (MPD) implementation of an extensive general population electronic video surveillance network with the publication of the Wall Street Journal article, "Washington Police to Play `I Spy'" in Feb. 2002. Subsequently we have learned that the National Park Service, among other Federal agencies intends to install a general population electronic video surveillance network on Park Service property.

Chief Ramsey, and the NOPR before you today, has said that he contemplates that the Metropolitan Police Department's (MPD) network may be linked with the Park Service's network as well as those of other public and private entities, including the D.C. Public School System, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, and the D.C. Department of Public Works' Transportation Division, and could ultimately include more than a thousand cameras, both building or ground mounted and mounted on helicopters. Presently the MPD's helicopters are already equipped with Forward looking infrared and video camera system that can record or broadcast on a microwave downlink system.

City and Federal officials have variously described these systems' purpose as protecting sites at a high risk of terrorist activity (NPS), as "event specific to be activated only during threats or terror or large public events" (MPD), and as enhancing day-to-day policing, and modeled on the system in London (Mayor Williams). Each of these purposes is very different and not necessarily mutually compatible. None of them, including the proposed NOPR, have clearly indicated what is the purpose of the MPD's system. Without clearly defining the purpose, the effectiveness of these general population surveillance camera systems cannot be determined.

It is incumbent upon the Council to make sure that the purpose of the system is clearing defined and delimited before we embark further on an expensive and possibly constitutionally questionable system of surveillance. New developments in surveillance technology, including thermal imaging, biometric facial recognition systems, and infrared or night time imaging, are outstripping criminal and privacy protection laws and, depending upon how such technology as used, may allow law enforcement agencies to engage in intrusive searches without a warrant and without probable cause or individualized suspicion that a crime is or may be committed, may encourage racial or ethnic profiling, and may cast a pall on free exercise of First Amendment rights.

The existence of such a network raises many other legal and operational questions, including (1) who gave permission to implement this network and whether there is public support for its creation; (2) how the cameras will be used; (3) who will control and have access to them; (4) the cameras' effectiveness in deterring or solving crimes; (5) the effect on our privacy rights and whether there is a less intrusive way to accomplish the same goals; (6) whether the images will be recorded and, if so, how long they will be retained, for what purposes will they be used, how they will secured and whether such images will be subject to the District and Federal Freedom of Information Acts and subpoena by private litigants; (7) whether there are any civil or criminal penalties for misusing the camera systems or recorded images; and, finally, (8) whether such a surveillance system really is a cost-effective use of limited public resources, once the maintenance and personnel needs to operate the system, including analyzing the images, are calculated.

The Council of the District of Columbia, on March 5, 2002, recognized that "[m]aintaining a balance between the need for effective law enforcement and the need to protect the privacy of the citizens of and visitors to the District of Columbia is an important public policy issue" and directed the MPD to "draft regulations pertaining to the use of video surveillance camera and technology in the operation of its Joint Operations Command Center/Synchronized Operations Command Center".

The Cleveland Park Citizens Association (CPCA) is concerned, like Congresswoman Constance Morella, Chair of the House District of Columbia Subcommittee, that we do not turn the District into "'Fort Washington' - ... whether "that fortress is built with an impenetrable ring of concrete barriers or with an unregulated network of digital cameras". The CPCA recognizes the possible chilling effect general population surveillance camera systems may have on privacy, free speech and assembly and is concerned about any scheme of indiscriminate general population surveillance.

The CPCA urges the Council, before any further implementation of the MPD's video surveillance program is authorized:

  1. To thoroughly and publicly consider whether any wide-scale system of surveillance cameras is necessary or appropriate in the District of Columbia;
  2. To thoroughly and clearly define the purpose for use of such technology;
  3. For guidance, to consult standards developed by organizations which have examined the competing policy and constitutional issues, such as the American Bar Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the American Civil Liberties Union;
  4. To approve appropriate legislation and regulations that have the force and effect of law governing the use of video surveillance systems and ensure that such legislation and regulations are sensitive to constitutional and privacy concerns and only authorize the least intrusive efective system;
  5. To ensure that any legislation and regulations approved adequately address the issues raised above and:
    1. clearly define what are legal and illegal uses of video surveillance technology and the circumstances under which surveillance cameras may be used;
    2. adequately protect the privacy and security of surveillance recordings and provide for the swift destruction of those without value as evidence;
    3. provide civil and criminal penalties for those who abuse the surveillance system; and
The CPCA urges the Council to work with our Delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton and Congress to ensure that federal video surveillance programs in the District are similarly reviewed and subject to appropriate legislative controls, that are especially sensitive to constitutional and privacy concerns, before they are implemented.

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