Cameras installed in Lobby 10

Martin Luther King Jr. exhibit monitored for vandalism

2745 cameras
Cameras were recently installed in Lobby 10 to watch the Martin Luther King, Jr. seminar exhibit, a frequent target of vandalism. It is unclear how long the cameras will remain or how long the recorded footage will be retained.
Nicholas Chornay—The Tech

To monitor vandalism against this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. exhibit, surveillance cameras were installed two weeks ago in Lobby 10. The cameras are not actively watched, but the video is stored, the security office said.

One camera is installed above the east entrance to Lobby 10, and the other is above the west entrance. MIT has not responded to inquiries about whether these cameras are permanent, when they might be removed, what policies control access to them, or how long their footage is retained.

The MLK exhibit, a student project that has been displayed Lobby 10 every February since 1999, has historically been a target of vandalism. Department of Political Science Undergraduate Administrator Tobie F. Weiner, who organizes the exhibit as part of the IAP MLK design seminar (17.920), said that the cameras were installed by the campus police on behalf of the seminar.

Weiner said that to have the cameras installed, she worked with Thomas W. Komola, manager of MIT’s Security and Emergency Management Office; with Director of Facilities Operations and Security John DiFava, who oversees the Campus Police; and with Captain Jay A. Perault of the Campus Police. DiFava did not reply to an e-mail inquiry sent Monday afternoon.

“Two wireless cameras were installed two weeks ago in the lobby of Building 10 at the request of the MIT Police, in order to capture any vandalism-related activities at the displays located there. The space is not being actively monitored, but the video will be stored in case the MIT Police need to review it in conjunction with a potential investigation,” said Komola in a prepared statement.

Komola told The Tech that he was not authorized to speak publicly. Shortly before the close of business Monday, he provided a written answer to preliminary questions that The Tech had submitted over the weekend. The answers had first been vetted by the MIT News Office.

The security office has not responded to questions yesterday from The Tech about what other portions of the campus are under video surveillance, how surveillance footage might be used in the event of a hack in Lobby 10, and what policies about retention exist.

The security office maintains a strict policy for the records of card access across campus: the data are retained for just a few weeks before being automatically deleted. There are no similar policies about surveillance footage.

Students have begun to notice the cameras as well. Yesterday afternoon, students on the Senior House mailing list mentioned the cameras and speculated that they were put there to watch the MLK exhibit.

The cameras were successful in deterring vandalism this year, Weiner said. She noted that slums exhibit was missing “some pizza boxes and empty soda bottles,” though this may have been innocent.

“I hope this isn’t an opportunity for Campus Police to keep cameras up in Lobby 10 forever,” Weiner said.

Last year, a display about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict was removed in its entirety, and a cardboard cutout of Abraham Lincoln was replaced with a cardboard cutout of “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin.

The exhibit was also vandalized multiple times in 2007, as well as in prior years.

In a Nov. 2007 survey of campus video cameras, Komola told The Tech he thought the lack of policy and accounting for cameras on campus was a real problem. He added that the faculty and administration needed to be approached on these issues, but there were no concrete plans for improving the situation. Since then, repeated casual inquiries directed at the security office have found there has been no progress on such a policy.

In the survey, The Tech reported that the Department of Chemistry maintained a comprehensive array of 30 cameras throughout Building 18, as well as a handful of cameras in departmental space in Buildings 4 and 18, and also that the Department of Mathematics maintained four cameras within Building 2.