COLUMBUS- The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio launched an investigation today into a controversial new surveillance program that would allow government officials to monitor video feeds from private and public areas around the state. The Camera Integration Project is designed to allow local officials access to an array of public and private surveillance cameras. The ACLU of Ohio’s records request seeks all documents that outline who will have access to the system, when it may be accessed, penalties for the unauthorized use of the system, and who is responsible for oversight of the program.
ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link said, “Without strong guidelines, massive surveillance programs like this are ripe for abuse. Recent cases such as Samuel ‘Joe the Plumber’ Wurzelbacher and Crystal Bowersox have shown how easily officials may snoop on others. State privacy protection laws remain woefully inadequate, so departments must have strict protocols in place if there is any hope to prevent spying.”
“Privacy must be a chief concern from the onset for leaders who plan to use technology in ever-increasing ways. While technology can present remarkable opportunities, its use must be strictly controlled. Allowing officials to watch our every move on thousands of cameras throughout the state represents a serious threat to our privacy, especially if there are no protections or accountability. Ohioans deserve to know what officials have in place to ensure abuses do not happen,” added Link.
Other recent cases of government snooping include a Department of Public Safety attorney who pled guilty to intercepting emails meant for colleagues and a Warren-area law enforcement officer using the police database to search for information on co-workers, neighbors, and local politicians.
The ACLU’s records request comes on the ninth anniversary of the federal USA Patriot Act’s enactment. The sweeping legislation granted new surveillance powers in an effort to fight terrorism, but allowed the government to have unchecked access to Americans’ Internet, banking, library, phone and many other records.
“After nearly a decade, the Patriot Act’s legacy continues as Americans are still under an unprecedented level of surveillance,” Link concluded. “Over the past several years, we have seen incremental increases in the government’s involvement in our lives. While everyone wants to guard against another terrorist attack or natural disaster, these types of programs often use tremendous resources but provide little safety.”
Update 03.07.11 State officials announced in March 2011 that they would not proceed with the CIP program. The ACLU will continue to monitor the Department of Public Safety’s future initiatives to ensure they include adequate privacy protections for Ohioans.