Thursday, November 22, 2007

Tenn. jail Web cam jeopardizes security

An East Tennessee county that has beamed live 24-hour video from its jail on the Internet for nearly six years may nix the practice following complaints of harassment and security concerns.

Some viewers have been using the cameras to harass female jailers by calling them on the telephone and taunting them as they work, according to Anderson County sheriff's officials.

In other cases, viewers are tracking inmate movements and using the information to coordinate deliveries of contraband to prisoners on work details outside the jail.

"It shows the public what we are doing. I like that idea," said Anderson County sheriff Paul White.

"But by the same token, now that people are using it for bad things, we have to weigh the odds. The bad things that could happen are not worth the good things that happen out of it. And if you weigh the odds, it looks like we will have to shut it down."

Anderson County authorities believe the practice is likely the only one in the country. The Anderson County site had logged more than 8.8 million Web hits as of Tuesday.

Until three years ago, Maricopa County, Ariz., also operated an Internet jail camera system. There, Sheriff Joe Arpaio was forced to shut down the live jail feed after inmates sued, claiming their rights were being abused.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2003 sided with the inmates, ruling the system amounted to "humiliation." The U.S. Supreme Court announced two months ago that it had refused to hear Arpaio's appeal.

Arpaio settled and the county paid more than $60,000 in legal fees, plus $500 to each of 11 inmates who sued.

Anderson County's public defender Tom Marshall said he had not heard of any complaints from inmates who have been incarcerated in Anderson County's jail.

Information from: The Tennessean,