Within six months there will be video cameras inside the Lincoln Memorial and around other monuments on the National Mall because of fears of terrorist attacks, a National Park Service official told House members Friday.
There is a real danger "that these icons of democracy are high targets of terrorist activities," John G. Parsons, associate regional director for the Park Service's National Capital Region, said at a hearing.
The Park Service plan, and separate plans by the city's police department to expand its video surveillance, raise serious privacy questions, said Rep. Constance Morella, chairwoman of the House Government Reform panel on the District of Columbia.
"Once the police have cameras that can see anywhere in the city, pretty soon the police will be using those cameras to look anywhere in the city," she said.
Parsons said cameras would be mounted and monitored around-the-clock at six sites on the Mall: the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial.
He said the closed-circuit system, costing $2 million to $3 million, would be installed in locations "where there is no expectation of privacy" and that no other surveillance technology, such as facial recognition, would be used. He said the images recorded would be kept for a limited time and would be used only for valid law enforcement purposes.
The Park Service and its 800-officer Park Police force had planned and sought funding for video surveillance because of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and overseas attacks, but moved up deployment after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Morella and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents the District of Columbia in the House, also questioned Metropolitan Police Department Chief Charles Ramsey about his plans to expand police video surveillance in the capital.
Ramsey said police currently have about a dozen cameras located at strategic locations, such as the roof of the Labor Department building overlooking the Capitol Building and Washington Monument. He said that they are activated only during major events such as marches and demonstrations and more recently during periods of heightened terrorist threats, and that they are used only for observation, not recording.
He said there are efforts underway to link the police Joint Operations Command Center with other public agency video networks, particularly traffic camera systems that could be helpful in times of emergency or evacuations.
Morella said that the system could ultimately include more than 1,000 cameras in place on city streets, the subway system and schools, and move Washington in the direction of London, which has an extensive video monitoring system. The average Londoner is caught on film about 300 times a day, she said.
"People are at least entitled to know about it before and not after the cameras are set up," said Norton. She said she would introduce legislation to form a presidential commission to study how best to fight terrorism while protecting American values of privacy, openness and public access.
The Bush administration has asked for $23 million in 2003 to add vehicle barriers and lighting around the Washington Monument and the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials and $6 million to secure icons such as the Statue of Liberty, Independence Hall, Mount Rushmore, and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.