Counterterror Grants Fund City Cameras, Data Mining; Privacy Advocates See 'Surrogates' to Big Brother

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 19, 2005 | Go to article overview

Counterterror Grants Fund City Cameras, Data Mining; Privacy Advocates See 'Surrogates' to Big Brother


Byline: Audrey Hudson, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Millions of federal grant dollars allocated for municipalities to use for terrorism prevention and response are being spent to expand camera surveillance systems, buy data-mining programs for small-town police departments and create facial-recognition technology.

Homeland security officials say the purchases fall within first-responder grant guidelines and are important tools in the war on terrorism. But privacy advocates say the technology is no deterrent to terrorism and can be used to violate civil liberties.

"Big Brother is using his extended family as surrogates to develop and implement technology that is very invasive on privacy," said former Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican and former U.S. attorney.

New York City has the largest and oldest system, with more than 7,000 public and private surveillance cameras. Baltimore, Chicago and New Orleans are installing camera surveillance networks with federal homeland security dollars.

Chicago financed its 2,250 cameras with a $5.1 million grant and is adding more cameras over the next two years with another $48 million first-responder grant. The cameras, which cost up to $60,000 each, are controlled remotely by police to zoom and rotate, and are equipped with night vision.

In 2004, homeland security funds bought $193 million worth of surveillance cameras. Similar "physical security enhancement equipment" for large cities is to be used primarily for ports, said Homeland Security Department spokesman Marc Short. "I can't imagine a more logical expenditure of funds," he said.

Maryland is spending $1.3 million in federal grants for a camera system that will expand to Anne Arundel, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties. Washington has a camera system, but it is turned on only for major events or during emergencies, said Melissa Ngo, staff counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

"The other cities will be watching everyone all the time, even when there is no emergency," she said. "One of the biggest risks that come with these homeland security cameras is that it's misused or abused."

Grant funding for data-mining software comes from the Commercial Equipment Direct Assistance Program for cities with populations of fewer than 50,000.

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