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Security Cameras At Boston’s July Fourth Celebration Raise Privacy Concerns

BOSTON — One thing you can expect to see in Boston on this Fourth of July: many, many more police than usual — and many more security cameras, too. Law enforcement is responding aggressively to the the security issues raised by the marathon bombings, and the ACLU of Massachusetts is raising privacy concerns.

Massachusetts State Police Superintendent Col. Timothy Alben said security cameras are being deployed at and around the Fourth of July events in unprecedented numbers.

“I can tell you that is exponentially larger amount of cameras than ever before,” he said. “And that will be the [case] going forward for large events like this, and certainly for this particular event for years moving forward.”

At a press briefing Wednesday in a joint command headquarters near the Esplanade, Col. Alben declined to say just how many cameras would be in use. In a later interview, he said many would be in plain view on poles and bridges, providing a deterrent to would-be terrorists, while protecting visitors celebrating the nation’s freedoms.

Operated wirelessly, the cameras’ recordings will be downloaded to a central server, he said, where, from a technical point of view at least, they could be kept indefinitely.

“We haven’t developed a policy on how long we’ll keep it,” Col. Alben said. “I think again we did a lot of this in preparation for this particular event. And, as we move forward, we’ll refine the policy, I think, on keeping it.”

That lack of refinement has the ACLU of Massachusetts concerned. Kade Crockford, who directs the group’s Technology for Liberty Project, says it is legitimate for law enforcement to deploy such cameras to protect safety at big public events.

“That said, I think it’s very troubling that the police do not have a policy to govern the use of these cameras,” she said.

Most police which use surveillance cameras do have such policies, Crockford noted. They are needed, she said, to ensure that free-speech protected activities — including anti-federal surveillance protests scheduled for July Fourth — are not monitored illegally.

“There are going to be a lot of protests full of people who are outraged around that very question,” Crockford said. “And the surround-cameras at the Esplanade don’t necessarily raise the same kind of issues that pervasive tracking of our day-to-day lives do. But there are very specific questions related to face recognition, protected speech, automated tracking and retention and sharing of this information which I think need to be answered.”

Responding to a request for a follow-up interview, Massachusetts State Police spokesman David Procopio said by email that police understand the need for a data storage policy and would develop one, but he declined to provide further details. Police did not want to delay implementation the technology, he said, “as we were up against a deadline and we have a responsibility to protect visitors to the event.”

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