Dear Coalition Friends:
Reporter Al Kamen’s “In the Loop” column on page A29 of yesterday’s (Friday, November 7th) Washington Post has an item about Park Police installation of surveillance cameras in the Washington Monument – and Congressional reaction to it:
…Someone to Watch Over Me . . .
Ever get the feeling someone is watching you stroll along the Mall? That’s because someone is — from atop the 555-foot Washington Monument. Seems four surveillance cameras were installed there back in March to keep an eye out for terrorists and other evildoers.
Where visitors had eight windows — two in each direction — to survey the vista, now there are four. The cameras, likely mounted on tripods, are hidden in small plywood closets and look out the other four.
The cameras have attracted the attention of Hill folks, including Rep. Nick J. Rahall II, (W.Va.), ranking Democrat on the House Resources Committee. Rahall wrote National Park Service Director Fran P. Mainella, asking whether the cameras weren’t “crosswise with the purpose of the recent $10.5 million restoration . . . which was . . . to enhance visitor appreciation and enjoyment.” So what’s with the cameras? Rahall asked.
As of yesterday, he hadn’t received a response, but U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers told us we need not be concerned.
There was no announcement when they were installed, she said, because “Tractor Man” was sitting in a pool in Constitution Gardens, with access to newspapers and television, and the Park Police didn’t want him to know he was being watched.
The cameras can see a long way, Chambers acknowledged, but they are “looking at bridges and those types of things,” and there is a “very strict policy in place with checks and balances. Operators know that this isn’t a toy, and the only time the operator can zoom is when he or she has an articulable suspicion that the person is committing a criminal act.”
If the operators see people passing a suspicious object that could be a weapon, she said, officers would be alerted. Same with “suspicious persons attempting to get into cars.”
The only places where they look, she said, are those “where people do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy.”
What about a little pot smoking on the Fourth of July? Unlikely, she said. “We are looking for crimes in progress that affect other people.”
Hmmmm . . . but isn’t that definition broad enough to prompt members of Congress with windows facing the Mall to close the drapes when the white envelopes fly by?
© 2003 The Washington Post Company