Mendelson May Try to Derail City's Camera Program
D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) says he may propose language in the Budget Support Act today that would block the city's camera surveillance program.
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty announced the initiative, VIPS, or the Video Interoperability for Public Safety Program, in April. The plan, which has agitated several council members and others concerned about privacy rights, calls for linking more than 5,000 closed-circuit cameras from about 10 city agencies.
Mendelson was among the council members who grilled City Administrator Dan Tangherlini yesterday. Mendelson, chair of the oversight hearing of the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, said he was troubled the camera system was started without privacy rules in place.
His goal today with any language to the Budget Support Act would be to make the city "start over and have the answers" on how it would protect residents' rights.
Tangherlini also found himself being scolded by Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), yesterday, who told him: "This was put together hastily, without adequate thought or due consideration for the byproduct effects that will inevitably follow."
Supporters have said the system will save money and improve emergency response. But privacy advocates have said the program amounted to a video Big Brother.
The council recently cut funds from the 2009 budget that would have transferred employees to the new centralized monitoring center run by the city's Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency.
Tangherlini told the hearing that work was underway on completing the privacy regulations. He said the city was merely trying to find the most efficient and effective way to use the thousands of cameras it already had.
"The technology train has already left the station," he said. He added that the program would provide uniform policies for city agencies on how long to store images and how the cameras would be monitored. Currently, many of the agencies have no formal policies for the use of their cameras, he said.
The program is to be funded mainly with grant money from the Department of Homeland Security.
Mary Beth Sheridan
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