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Secret, High-Tech Cameras to Survey GOP Convention, Raising Privacy Concerns

"If the city keeps these cameras, what are the limits of their use?"

With Tampa, Fla., hosting the Republican National Convention this August, security preparations are already underway. One of these efforts includes high-tech surveillance cameras placed at undisclosed locations that have some worried about Big Brother sticking around even after the convention gets out of town.

Tampa Bay Online reports that the city council approved the purchase of a $2 million closed-circuit television system, which includes cameras that can "zoom in on your face and clearly see who you're talking to on the sidewalk below," even while the device may be installed at the top of a skyscraper. Council members recently expressed their thoughts on the system with varying opinions regarding how long it should remain:

A balance must be struck between providing safety and protecting the privacy of citizens, Councilwoman Lisa Montelione said.

"I don't have a problem of purchasing this equipment for the protection of the city, citizens and officers," she said during the council meeting Thursday. "The issue that was brought to my attention is the regulation of the cameras after the convention."

Councilwoman Mary Mulhern expressed concerns that Big Brother-type surveillance will linger long after the convention ends.

"This is a huge thing," Mulhern said. "We'll have many dozens of security cameras overhead. We don't want permanent surveillance."

Councilwoman Yvonne Yolie Capin said residents may have already grown accustomed to the prevalence of cameras at traffic lights and storefronts. Video surveillance may make people feel safer and bring more business to downtown shops and bars after dark, she said.

"That ship has sailed," Capin said. "There are cameras everywhere."

Tampa Bay Online also has more details from an ACLU attorney on the cameras:

"These are not run-of-the-mill cameras," said John Dingfelder, a former Tampa councilman. "These are high-tech cameras that, when mounted on the top of a building, can see the mole on your face. There's privacy issues here. If the city keeps these cameras, what are the limits of their use?"

Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor is reported as saying she hopes the department has a level of rapport established in the community that they will trust the cameras will be used appropriately. Still, the purchase of the cameras for the Aug. 27 event -- although they will be running by July 1 and after the convention as well -- was approved 6-1. The council will reconvene on the topic of how long they will remain on Sept. 20.

It is noted that the public did not comment on the cameras -- the contract for which was awarded to a firm called Aware Digital -- because of time constraints for installation and training. Tampa Bay Online reports that the city has spent $6.5 million on security for the convention thus far.

(H/T Blaze reader Susan H.)

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