Boston's 4th Celebration Brings More Security

Jul 4, 2013
Originally published on July 4, 2013 6:02 pm

Cities across the country are beefing up security for their July 4th celebrations, since it’s the largest public event since the Boston Marathon bombings.

In Boston, in addition to more police, National Guard members will be manning security checkpoints. And if you look up, you’ll see more security cameras, too.

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Fred Bever from WBUR in Boston reports on the increased security, and concerns being raised by the American Civil Liberties Union.

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From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW. Several cities are increasing security this Fourth because of the Boston Marathon bombings. In Los Angeles, police are putting more officers on the streets. Washington, D.C., police are on high alert near government buildings and public transit. And along the Charles River here in Boston, the celebration that culminates with the Boston Pops and the fireworks, has people are being asked not to bring anything other than a small see-through bag, no coolers, no backpacks, no big U-Hauls, like they usually have. And the National Guard has set up security checkpoints where they're scanning people with wands. We took an unscientific survey.

MELISSA MANGLE: The security was a lot more intense this year. You have - they searched everything. We couldn't bring in certain things. But in light of what happened a few months ago, it's important to be safe.

CARRIE MANGLE: I think it's a great thing that they want to protect us. And I think it's a great thing that people are still coming out, because, you know, this is a great event. And to not come because you're afraid would be terrible.

STEVE BALLARD: I kind of have some misgivings about all the video cameras that are to be placed around. And the extent of the surveillance state that we're in right now really concerns me. But I'm personally coming here with my family here, I guess, I feel good that there will be cameras to record people who commit crimes.

YOUNG: Conflicting feelings there about cameras from Steve Ballard(ph) of Foxboro, Massachusetts. Before him, Carrie Mangle(ph) of Redding, Pennsylvania, and her daughter Melissa(ph) of Quincy, Mass. WBUR's Fred Bever of the HERE AND NOW Contributors Network has more.

FRED BEVER, BYLINE: State police Superintendent Colonel Tim Alben says security cameras are being deployed at and around the Fourth of July events in unprecedented numbers.

COLONEL TIMOTHY ALBEN: I can tell you that it is an exponentially larger amount of cameras this year than ever before, and that will be the norm for large events like this and certainly with this particular event years moving forward.

BEVER: At a press briefing yesterday in a joint command headquarters near the Esplanade, Colonel 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. forward, we'll refine the policy, I think, on keeping it.

That 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.

KADE CROCKFORD: That said, I think it's very troubling that the police do not have a policy to govern the use of these cameras.

BEVER: Most police departments that use surveillance cameras do have such policies, Crockford says. They're needed, she adds, to ensure that free speech-protected activities, including anti-federal surveillance protests scheduled for today, are not monitored illegally.

CROCKFORD: There's going to be a lot of protests full of people who are outraged about that very question. And, you know, 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, you know, protected speech, automated tracking and retention and sharing of this data that I think need to be answered.

BEVER: Responding to a request for a follow-up interview, 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 of a technology, he said, quote, "as we were up against a deadline and we have a responsibility to protect visitors to the event."

YOUNG: WBUR's Fred Bever in Boston. We'll take a break. Later, the lighter side of the Fourth, the fireworks. How do you get a good picture? We'll speak to a professional photographer. That's in one minute. HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.