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web posted July 9, 2001

Tampa installs 'face-printing' camera system on city streets

A new law in Tampa is raising concerns about Big Brother. The city is using high-tech security cameras to scan the city's streets for people wanted for crimes.

A computer software program linked to 36 cameras began scanning crowds June 29 in Tampa's nightlife district, Ybor City, matching results against a database of mug shots of people with outstanding arrest warrants.

European cities and U.S government offices, casinos and banks are already using the so-called face-printing system, but Tampa is the first American city to install a permanent system along public streets, The Tampa Tribune reported Sunday.

A similar system was used at Super Bowl XXXV, which was held in Tampa last January.

"Tampa is really leading the pack here," said Frances Zelazny, a spokeswoman for Visionics Corp., which produces the "FaceIt" software.

The software has raised concerns over privacy, ethics and government intrusion.

"This is Big Brother actually implemented," said Jack Walters of the Tampa chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. "I think this just opens the door to it being everywhere."

But Tampa Detective Bill Todd says FaceIt is no different than having a police officer standing on a street holding a mug shot.

At the Super Bowl, a Visionics competitor, Graphco Technologies, wired cameras around Raymond James Stadium and in Ybor City.

The computer spotted 19 people at the crowded stadium with outstanding warrants, all for minor offenses. But no arrests were made.

"During the Super Bowl, we got overwhelmed," Todd said. "That's the other thing: When you get a match, how quickly can you get to these people?"

Business owners have mixed emotions about the new technology.

"I don't know if I like it," said Vicki Doble, who owns The Brew Pub. "It may be a bit too much."

Don Barco, owner of King Corona Cigars Bar & Cafe, approves of the cameras but says they may not be as effective as the city hopes.

"Sometimes these high-tech toys, they tend to give a little too much credence to what they do," he said.

Ashcroft's letter to NRA prompts ethics complaint from two groups

Two advocacy groups filed an ethics complaint today against Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, arguing that a recent letter from Ashcroft to the National Rifle Association improperly undermines the government's position in a pending court case.

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and Common Cause are asking that the Justice Department's inspector general and the D.C. Court of Appeals' Board of Professional Responsibility open investigations into Ashcroft's statements, according to a copy of the complaint obtained by The Washington Post.

Ashcroft wrote in a May 17 letter to the NRA that he "unequivocally" believes the Constitution protects the right of individuals to own guns. In a Texas case, the U.S. government has argued the opposite, maintaining that the right to own a gun contained in the Second Amendment is a collective, not individual, right.

"His public expression of this position directly contradicts the United States' stated legal position in pending litigation," said the complaint, signed by Brady Center President Michael D. Barnes and Common Cause President Scott Harshbarger. "We believe that Attorney General Ashcroft has violated numerous ethical guidelines that govern his conduct toward his client, the United States of America."

Ashcroft said in his letter that he "cannot comment on any pending litigation," but the complaint argues that the rest of his comments have the effect of undermining such litigation.

Justice Department spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said Ashcroft's views on the Second Amendment will not affect the case in Texas because the government will still argue that the defendant, Timothy Joe Emerson, violated federal law by owning a gun while under a restraining order.

Ashcroft, Tucker said, "believes there's an individual right to own a gun, but there are also reasonable restrictions. The two are not mutually exclusive."

The ethics complaint reflects an escalating attack by gun control advocates on the policies emerging from the Justice Department.

The week before, the Brady Center and other groups derided Ashcroft for slashing the amount of time that records will be kept on instant background checks for gun buyers, from 90 days to one day.

The relatively few court decisions pertaining to the Second Amendment over the last century have generally interpreted gun ownership as a collective right. But in his letter, Ashcroft cited numerous earlier decisions concluding the opposite, joining many legal scholars who have recently argued that the older rulings have greater merit.

The matter could be put to a test in the case of Emerson, a San Angelo, Tex., physician accused of displaying a gun in front of his daughter and wife, who had filed a restraining order against him. The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 forbids anyone under a restraining order from owning a gun.

A federal judge threw out the charges against Emerson last year, ruling that "a textual analysis of the Second Amendment supports an individual right to bear arms." The case is on appeal.

China dismisses reports of organ harvesting

A Chinese doctor lied when he told the U.S. Congress that he removed skin from an executed prisoner who was still breathing, Chinese officials said July 4.

Other parts of Wang Guoqi's testimony about the harvesting of body parts from executed prisoners in China also were riddled with lies, said Tian Fuming, vice director of the hospital in the northeastern city of Tianjin where Wang worked.

Wang, who is seeking asylum in the United States, claimed he took skin from more than 100 executed prisoners to graft onto wealthy or politically connected patients.

His June 27 testimony added to previous allegations of China using executed prisoners for involuntary organ transplants. Human-rights groups have claimed that China schedules executions to coincide with transplant operations. Activist Harry Wu, imprisoned by China for 19 years, said rich foreign transplant recipients may pay more than $15,000 apiece for harvested organs.

China's foreign ministry issued a similar denial the day after Wang testified. At a press conference on July 4 in Beijing, Tian and other officials reiterated the government's claim that prisoners' organs are used only with consent from the prisoner and family members.

The officials did not outright deny that Wang had been involved in such operations, but denied some of his specific claims about his work at the Tianjin hospital, which is run by China's military.

Tian said Wang was not qualified to harvest body parts or to be at the site of executions.

Chen Su, an official in Tianjin's public relations office, accused Wang of fabricating his testimony to win asylum in the United States.

''His account of the executions ... is something out of his imagination,'' Chen said.

The hospital's vice-director said Wang had been reprimanded in the past for selling medicine to patients in violation of hospital rules.

Tian said records also showed Wang was at the Tianjin hospital in October 1995, not taking skin from an executed prisoner in nearby Hebei province as Wang told Congress. During his testimony, Wang said he sliced off the skin as the executed prisoner was still breathing and convulsing on the ground after being shot.

Wang's testimony is ''an anti-Chinese farce and full of loopholes,'' Tian said.

He said his hospital had never harvested internal organs from executed prisoners or anyone else. Tian said his hospital performs skin graft surgery, but the skin comes from the patient's own body or is provided by larger hospitals.

Tian also accused Wang of misrepresenting himself as a surgeon when in fact he had only a junior medical degree. Wang was not a burn injury expert and was not qualified to do skin grafts, Tian said.

He also said the medical records of two of the skin transplants Wang mentioned used skin taken from the patients' own bodies, not executed prisoners as Wang alleged.

Michael Moriarty says Janet Reno cost him his job

Michael Moriarty, the actor who played prosecutor Ben Stone on Law & Order, said he was pushed out of that role because of his political stand against then-attorney general Janet Reno.

Dick Wolf, the show's executive producer, denies the allegation.

In 1993, Reno had campaigned against violence on television, citing Law & Order and Murder, She Wrote as examples of shows that needed toning down. Moriarty held a press conference in which he condemned Reno and asked other entertainers to help defend the industry.

In the July 7 issue of TV Guide, Moriarty said he blames that feud for the loss of his job and his descent into alcoholism.

"He came into my office and told me he was going to sue Janet Reno," Wolf said. "I said, 'Michael, this is the attorney general of the United States, not some local politician."'

Moriarty offered his resignation not long after that.

"Day by day, there was increasing distance between me and Wolf," Moriarty told the magazine. He said Wolf's production company, Wolf Films, "is a company that fires you after pushing you out of the loop, by making your situation so humiliating that you resign."

Feds mull calling in marshals in Oregon water fight

Federal officials were considering whether to call in U.S. marshals to enforce the Endangered Species Act after angry farmers and residents sent water reserved for threatened and endangered fish into an irrigation canal.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation also was meeting with officials of the Klamath Irrigation District in an effort to restore calm.

"It is a discussion of mutual concerns," said bureau spokesman Jeff McCracken. "We have a responsibility to follow the law."

The Bureau of Reclamation controls the Klamath Project irrigation system, serving 240,000 acres of farms and ranches in the Klamath Basin along the Oregon-California border.

On July 4, a crowd of 100 to 150 people armed with a diamond-bladed chain saw and a cutting torch opened a gate that had been welded shut and reopened a headgate to send water from Upper Klamath Lake back into the "A" Canal of the Klamath Project.

It was the second time in a week that the headgate had been opened in defiance of the bureau's decision last April that severe drought made it impossible to provide water to 90 percent of the land in the Klamath Project without jeopardizing the survival of endangered sucker fish in Upper Klamath Lake and threatened coho salmon in the Klamath River.

Water flowed into the canal for over four hours, until a Bureau of Reclamation official closed it down, the Herald and News newspaper reported.

Klamath Falls police and county sheriff's deputies observed but did not interfere because no state or local laws were being broken, the newspaper said.

The Bureau of Reclamation owns the irrigation facilities, but contracts with the Klamath Irrigation District to maintain and operate them.

After the headgate was opened the first night, neither side wanted to close the gate, saying it was the other's responsibility. The bureau finally closed it.

"We certainly understand the frustration of the community facing this situation," said McCracken. "We would hope that cooler heads prevail."

Klamath County Sheriff Tim Evinger said he had notified the Klamath Irrigation District about the opened gates.

Irrigiation officials said the district would manage Wednesday's flow, estimated at 200 cubic feet per second.

"It just appears to me that they are trying to save their lives," Evinger said of those who opened the gate.

Since the water was shut off last April, Klamath Basin farms with no other source of water have been forced to sell off cattle, let pastures and hay fields go brown, and give up annual plantings of potatoes, grain and other crops.

Many other lands in the Klamath Basin served by wells or other irrigation districts are green.

Ron Johnson, a Klamath Falls farm equipment dealer, said the canal was reopened because people are frustrated and want to see something done.

"There is a lot of anger," he said. "It is really unfair to a lot of people who make their livelihood from farming, having everything taken away from them like it is."

China bills U.S. $1m for plane's stay

China has sent the United States a bill for $1 million to cover the costs of one of its spy planes staying on Chinese soil for three months.

But a U.S. State Department official said July 6 the government has no intention of paying it.

The American spy plane was forced to make an emergency landing on the Chinese island of Hainan on April 1 after colliding with a Chinese military aircraft that was shadowing it.

The episode roiled relations between the two countries just after President George W. Bush came to office, with ties between the two nations tumbling to their worse levels in two years.

After a drawn-out diplomatic spat, in which China held the plane's 24 crew for 11 days, Beijing allowed an American team to come and disassemble the plane and it was flown back to U.S. custody this week.

The United States had wanted to repair the plane and fly it out, but China said allowing the plane to fly off Hainan would be a national humiliation.

A Russian-built Antonov-124 cargo jet, carrying the EP-3E Aries fuselage, lands at Dobbins Air Reserve Base
A Russian-built Antonov-124 cargo jet, carrying the EP-3E Aries fuselage, lands at Dobbins Air Reserve Base

The fuselage and other parts of the plane were flown to a Georgia air base July 5 -- on a Russian Antonov cargo aircraft, but the bill has left U.S. diplomats describing it as "exaggerated."

"It's nice to know they have a sense of humor," a U.S. State department official said on condition of anonymity, scoffing at the scale of Beijing's charge.

The official said the United States, which is currently assessing whether the EP-3 can be returned to service, would respond in kind, apparently by sending a hefty bill back.

"They have presented us with what we would consider to be somewhat exaggerated charges," he said.

His comment comes one day after Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, a Pentagon spokesman, said the administration was prepared to reimburse China for reasonable costs.

The costs are related mostly to support provided by the Chinese government and local businesses to a Lockheed Martin recovery crew on Hainan.

The spokesman at the Chinese Embassy was unavailable for comment on the State Department rejection of the bill.

The Naval Air Systems Command has estimated structural repairs to the aircraft would take eight to 12 months. After that, the plane will be flown to Waco, Texas, for an electronic systems upgrade.

U.S. security personnel will also examine the plane, which was loaded with surveillance equipment, to try to determine what data the Chinese may have obtained.

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