D.C. Creates Surveillance Network

According to the Washington Post, the Washington, DC, government planned a May 1 launch for a new system that will link thousands of city-owned surveillance cameras. The D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency will monitor the closed-circuit video systems run by nine city agencies, including the Transportation Department and the D.C. Housing Authority.

In its initial phase, the program will include 4,500 cameras installed in sensitive areas around the city, including the areas around schools and government buildings. The D.C. Police Department will not be able to directly access the new system, but the monitoring office will have the ability to transmit video to police if a crime is detected. Officials hope that the new system will increase efficiency, as the current system requires the Homeland Security and Emergency Management office to formally request camera feeds from other agencies.

The new system also is expected to cut the amount of money the city spends to operate nonpolice cameras in half. Between three and five operators will monitor the cameras at any time, soon to be aided by analytic software that can alert operators to dangerous situations.

So far, the city has just $500,000 of the $9.6 million that the new network is expected to cost, enough to get the project off the ground. Officials are confident the city will receive additional grants in the coming months. Though the new system is expected to improve safety and save the city money, some are concerned that the network does not have sufficient safeguards for privacy.

The D.C. attorney general's office is creating a policy to protect privacy rights, but it will not be completed by the time the system is activated. Until the policy is agreed upon, the agencies involved will each follow their own rules. Though courts have ruled that people have no privacy rights in a public place, experts are concerned that digital footage could be leaked onto the Internet.


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