Surveillance at the DNC

There will be unprecedented video surveillance in Boston during the Democratic National Convention, including:

...some 30 cameras near the FleetCenter, the Coast Guard using infrared devices and night-vision cameras in the harbor, and dozens of pieces of surveillance equipment mounted on downtown buildings to monitor crowds for terrorists, unruly demonstrators, and ordinary street crime.

For the first time, 75 high-tech video cameras operated by the federal government will be linked into a surveillance network to monitor the Central Artery, City Hall Plaza, the FleetCenter, and other sensitive sites. Their feeds from cameras mounted on various downtown buildings will be piped to monitoring stations in the Boston area and in Washington, D.C., and officials will be able to zoom in from their work stations to gather details of facial descriptions or read license plates.

More than 100 cameras will monitor activity on buses and the subway. To demonstrate a point we make frequently, that once you give new powers to the Government it rarely gives them back, consider this:

While video surveillance has become a common tool for police and private security personnel, Boston police and federal officials concede that the additional cameras and new technology represent another chapter in Boston. And it's here to stay: Boston police say the 30 or so cameras installed for the convention will be used throughout the city once the event is over. ''We own them now," said police Superintendent Robert Dunford. ''We're certainly not going to put them in a closet."

We share the concerns of the ACLU and other civil libertarians:

Civil libertarians warn that the latest technology will be used to scare away protesters and others exercising their rights under the First Amendment. The critics complain that there are few state and federal laws regulating the use of video surveillance in public places. ''What this demonstrates is that '1984' is now technologically possible," said Barry Steinhardt, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Technology and Liberty Program, referring to George Orwell's vision of an all-seeing totalitarian state. ''This is really a situation where we are really being asked to blindly trust the government. There is no oversight of this. There are no safeguards."

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