From a dimly lit room in a secure command center, 21 streaming video feeds from 4,775 surveillance cameras around Washington, D.C., are projected across three screens and monitored at all hours, the Los Angeles Times reports. Every few seconds, footage from a different location pops up — a busy road, a picnic bench, the entrance to the new baseball stadium. Seven years after the Sept. 11 attacks, Mayor Adrian Fenty is trying to set up one of the most comprehensive centrally controlled visual surveillance systems in the world. Soon, the system will include feeds from 5,625 cameras run by eight agencies, including the Metropolitan Police Department.
Critics, including members of the District of Columbia Council, want to slow down. “The program was announced without any detail or planning around who would have access, for what purpose, and what would happen with any video or digital archive,” said Councilman Phil Mendelson. Current standards require that footage be kept only 10 days unless it is believed relevant to a criminal investigation, and that the public be alerted as cameras are installed. Much of the expense in — an estimated $5.1 million for fiscal year 2009 — will be covered by federal grants. James Jay Carafano, a terrorism expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation, is concerned that the Homeland Security grants are encouraging cities to set up camera networks that they might not be able to maintain: “The problem is, in a couple of years, when the federal money runs out, you’re going to be stuck with that system.”