Police to use cameras to monitor D.C. demonstrations
By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON Police intend to use more than a dozen automated surveillance cameras to keep an eye on large demonstrations planned in the nation's capital next month.
The cameras, monitored at police command centers, will keep tabs on anti-war protests planned for the weekend of Jan. 18-19 and the Jan. 22 "March for Life," an anti-abortion demonstration to mark the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.
Officials said on Dec. 20 that they were publicizing the plans to comply with an ordinance passed in November by the District of Columbia Council. It requires advance public notice when the tactic is to be used.
"The major advantage is to deploy police resources if you see any problems developing, if you need more people one place or fewer people another place," said councilwoman Kathleen Patterson. District law also requires that signs be posted to inform the public that certain areas can be under camera surveillance.
"I don't think the police ought to be taking video of peaceful demonstrators when there's no hint of lawbreaking," said Art Spitzer, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Capital Area chapter.
ACLU officials worry that cameras will deter participation in what they see as expressions of First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, association and assembly.
Police concede they have no information to indicate any plans for civil disobedience or violence.
The cameras transmit images of the areas they are trained on and are not connected to videotaping equipment. Kevin Morison, spokesman for the Metropolitan Police Department, said the cameras do not employ face recognition or biometrics technology to help identify specific individuals.
"Big events like this that attract people to the nation's capital could either themselves become targets of terrorists, or terrorists could use those major events as cover to launch some sort of attack," Morison said.
"We expect tens of thousands of people to be coming out Jan. 18 to oppose this war drive," said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, a lawyer with the Partnership for Civil Justice, a nonprofit lawyers' group. "We hear from people who are outraged by the surveillance cameras."
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