United States Park Police

Closed Circuit Television Policy

The United States Park Police (USPP), a division of the National Park Service, which is in turn part of the Department of the Interior, operates networks of surveillance cameras at the White House, the FDR Memorial, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans' War Memorial. For more than a year after these cameras were first installed, the USPP operated them according to a series of "draft" policy statements, that is, by making their guidelines up as they went along. It wasn't until 16 June 2003 that the USPP finally produced a final policy statement; and it did so only in response to pressure brought to bear by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, among others. (Note that USPP still hasn't revealed the precise locations of its cameras, which is something the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia did with its 14-camera network back in 2001.)

For a "final" policy statement, the USPP's "Closed Circuit Television Policy" is totally inadequate. Incredibly, it fails to mention the fact that -- because there are no federal laws covering what the Interior Department, or any other federal agency, can do with surveillance cameras on federal lands -- it, the "Closed Circuit Television Policy" statement itself, is the only set of guidelines that regulates the USPP's use of video surveillance systems. In other words, by way of a loophole, the National Parks Service has been "allowed" to write, administer and supervise its video surveillance policies on its own, with no oversight whatsoever.

Unlike the DC law on surveillance cameras, which contains a bad definition of "Closed Circuit Television," the USPP's policy statement contains no definition at all. This is a fatal omission: you can't (self-)regulate something that you've never defined. Furthermore, it's quite possible that at least some of the USPP's cameras are part of open circuit television (OCTV) systems. Strictly speaking, wouldn't these "wireless" cameras fall outside of the policy statement's scope? Ambiguity on such an important matter can't be tolerated.

The USPP policy statement doesn't fare any better with its statement of its "Objectives."

1. CCTV will be used only to visually monitor public park areas and public activities where no constitutionally protected reasonable expectation of privacy exists.

2. CCTV will be used to help ensure public safety and security; facilitate the detection, investigation, prevent and deterrence of terrorist attack and crime; help ensure the safety of citizens and officers; help assist in the proper allocation and deployment of law enforcement and public safety resources; and help facilitate the protection of the innocent and the apprehension and prosecution of criminals.

The first objective -- it's really not an objective, but a mislabeled statement concerning "Operation and Use" -- is impossible to accomplish because of its nearly tautological vagueness. What is one to understand by the garbled phrase, "constitutionally protected reasonable expectation of privacy"? There are, of course, such things as "a constitutionally protected right to privacy" and "a reasonable expectation of privacy," but the USPP says nothing substantive about either one of these crucial concepts. (It also says nothing about the protections provided by the First, Fifth and Ninth Amendments, all of which are relevant here, not just those of the Fourth.) Where, exactly, is it "reasonable" to have an "expectation of privacy"? If the USPP cannot answer this question, then it shouldn't be using video cameras.

The second objective is defective because it is overly broad. It's clearly unrealistic to expect a single system, no matter how technologically sophisticated it is, to accomplish all of these "objectives." Significantly, the USPP has made no provisions whatsoever for measuring the effectiveness of their system, despite the fact that, as the General Accounting Office pointed out in its June 2003 report on surveillance cameras in Washington DC, "researchers and others recognize the importance of measuring effectiveness [of video surveillance] to justify the potential impact on individuals' civil liberties and the [financial] costs associated with its use." The USPP hasn't been collecting any statistics at all about the numbers of arrests and convictions that can be directly attributed to their cameras, preferring instead to use the time-tested and media-friendly technique of offering vague but reassuring anecdotes about their general effectiveness.

Under "Operation and Use," the USPP says that their cameras "will be operated [...] in a professional manner and only to further legitimate law enforcement and public safety objectives." Other than a "boilerplate" disclaimer -- "no person will be targeted or monitored because of race, religion, gender, sex, disability, national origin, and political affiliation or views" -- the document doesn't define what "professional" means. There are no provisions whatsoever for punishing those who abuse or make "unprofessional" use the system. There are no provisions whatsoever concerning the USPP's responsibilities to establish suitable credentials for their watchers; to do thorough checks into prospective watchers' backgrounds before hiring them; to train their watchers properly; or to monitor their adherence to the rules.

In a provision that should have been placed under "Operation and Use," but for some reason appears under "The CCTV Controlled Facility," the USPP says, "CCTV will not target or focus on the faces of persons engaging in First Amendment demonstration unless there is a reasonable indication of a threat to public safety or that they are engaging in criminal activity." Typically, the USPP don't bother to define what constitutes "a reasonable indication of a threat." Nor does it explain how people can be "engaging in criminal activity" if all they are doing is "engaging in First Amendment demonstration." As a result of such a tautological muddle, the Park Police no doubt feel free to target, zoom in on and videotape the faces of political demonstrators as they see fit.

-- 5 September 2003.

Contact the New York Surveillance Camera Players

By e-mail SCP@notbored.org

By snail mail: SCP c/o NOT BORED! POB 1115, Stuyvesant Station, New York City 10009-9998