Israel, cameras, help U.S. anti-terror effort

Washington (dpa) - Surveillance cameras across the nation, bag searches in the New York subway, police training in Israel: U.S. efforts to deter suicide bombers are growing bolder -- and more controversial. From Washington to Los Angeles, the July 7 London attacks in which four suicide bombers killed 52 mass transit passengers and wounded 700 others have U.S. authorities clamouring for more cameras and other security-boosting steps. An estimated 3 million cameras already snoop on U.S. public spaces, some of them discreet enough to pass for street lamps. But the fact that European investigators caught the London suspects thanks to surveillance videos has not gone unnoticed in the U.S.

"There is definitely strong pressure on state governments and the federal government to install more cameras. But the real debate has only just started," said Cedric Laurant of the Electronic Privacy Information Centre, a private watchdog group in Washington.

Chicago has led the way with more than 2,000 public surveillance cameras. More are on the way and the city reportedly wants to use software tuned to recognize suspicious behaviour. New Orleans, which is flooded by Mardi Gras revelers every February, has digital camera images sent to a central server at a monitoring centre from where even police cars can retrieve them. New York on Tuesday unveiled a plan to install 1,000 video cameras and 3,000 motion sensors in its subways. In Washington, about 300 cameras are to go up along a freight rail line that runs near the Capitol -- the U.S. legislative seat -- after local officials fearing a terrorist attack tried to ban hazardous shipments on the line.

"I have always been for broader use of cameras," Washington D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams was quoted as saying after the July 7 London bombings. "I do not think that cameras are this big mortal threat to civil liberties that people are painting them out to be."

But human rights groups fear that government snooping on citizens is spiralling out of control. In New York, privacy activists offer tours that point out surveillance cameras in the city.

"I believe that democracy is threatened by these cameras," activist Bill Brown [of the Surveillance Camera Players] recently told Cable News Network. Critics also point out that cameras have no proven record of catching terrorists before they strike.

Another worry is that stepped-up security measures encourage "profiling" -- looking for suspects based on race or ethnicity. The American Civil Liberties Union, a human rights group, has sued New York police over the random bag searches introduced after July 7, saying they are unconstitutional and too spotty to stop terrorists. New York police are "subjecting millions of innocent people to suspicionless searches", the group charged [...]

(Written by Tony Czuczka, Deutsche Presse-Agentur, and published through-pout the world on 24 August 2005.)

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