Feds peek at newest electronic security technology

Dozens of security companies gathered in the District last week to show off their newest products in hopes of snagging government contracts. But their cutting edge technology may also be cutting in on citizens' privacy, civil liberties groups say.

The ADT SecTech Expo celebrated its 10-year anniversary June 6 at the Atrium Hall at the Ronald Reagan Building & International Trade Center. The vacant space was transformed into a top-secret command center as ADT Security Services unveiled the latest in security technology. Many big-name security companies were on-hand, including: Honeywell Security, Bosch Security Systems, and General Electric Security.

Products varied widely. There were identity management tools like LG's eye-scan technology, IrisAccess. Security platforms were also on display, such as Comtrak Technologies' video surveillance and digital recording systems and Cisco Systems' card access control.

But at the center of it all, the crown jewel of the show, was the SecTech Control Center. A collaboration from multiple vendors, the control center linked up cameras and security systems from around the nation. On multiple monitors, visitors could witness what was going on around the corner, or in a bagel shop in New York with just a simple click of the mouse.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Privacy Information Center weighed in on the matter, saying the technology impeded on individual's right to privacy and did not ensure a drop in violent crime.

"We don't think it is appropriate for American citizens to be tracked and surveilled as they go about their daily business," said Arthur Spitzer, legal director for the ACLU's National Capital Area. "This is exactly what George Orwell warned us of when he wrote '1984.'[TFI]"

Each year, ADT invites legislators at the state and federal level to show off the latest gadgets in hopes of drumming up business. Other government representatives are also invited, such as Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration, and members from branches of the U.S. armed forces.

Paul Brisgone, national director in ADT's federal systems division, said there are other security shows in the Washington-area, where thousands of people attend. But, the SecTec Expo, which has crowds around 200, is much more personal and consequential because of the clientele.

Mr. Brisgone says rather than have people walking around looking for "a free lunch and some trinkets" his show brings "individuals who make decisions."

"We try every year to bring new technology and show people what they're buying," he said. "We want to show them where we are, what we can provide and what our capabilities are."

One item on display was ADT's wireless mesh network video system. The technology is in the process of being installed in Richmond, Calif. The undertaking is expected to be completed next month said Janet Schneider, Richmond's administrative chief.

The technology is costing the city more than $2 million, Ms. Schneider said. Richmond is installing the surveillance cameras in high-crime areas.

"It certainly isn't a panacea," she said. "But we have high expectations it will deter crimes."

The city's seaport, Port of Richmond, which handles the trade of automobiles and fuel, is just nine miles from the Golden Gate Bridge. The port attained a $2.5 million homeland security grant to install the cameras.

In all, there will be more than 100 cameras installed at the port and crime hot spots. The cameras are programmed to recognize certain suspicious movements like fights, crowd gathering and climbing. If these movements are picked up, the cameras will trigger an alarm, prompting a security or police officer to take a better look.

"This technology will let us catch things while it happens," Ms. Schneider said, indicating it will help both police and prosecutors.

The District had plans for a similar video surveillance system. But in May, the city council cut funding in Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's proposed homeland security budget, killing the plan.