MIT removes cameras from Lobby 10

Security office says there is a usage policy for footage

2806 camerasgone
Many public spots on campus are monitored by security cameras. Two were removed from Lobby 10 yesterday. Video footage on these cameras are stored only for limited periods of time, ranging from one to several weeks.

Two video cameras monitoring Lobby 10 were removed yesterday morning, according to Thomas W. Komola of the Security and Emergency Management Office.

The cameras “were intended for temporary use,” Komola said in an e-mail, and their removal had been scheduled prior to Tuesday’s Tech article pointing out the cameras.

“The cameras were actually loaners from a company that wanted us to demo their product,” Komola said.

Other cameras on campus

In 2007, The Tech reported on cameras that monitored public spaces on campus. Komola provided a list of cameras that had been installed since:

• Outside E52’s bicycle racks, in response to thefts.

• Four cameras installed outside MIT Medical for two purposes: validating late-night access requests; and monitoring of Medical last summer when Medical’s urgent care was closed.

The Tech survey had previously noted in 2007:

• Thirty cameras throughout Building 18 maintained by Chemistry, as well as in some Chemistry spaces in Buildings 18 and 4. As of 2007, their footage was kept for 14 days. Chemistry facilities manager Scott R. Wade is on vacation and returns on Monday, and did not respond to inquiries.

Additionally, Professor Tom W. Eagar ’72 talked to The Tech about the camera his lab maintains:

Eagar said in an e-mail that a camera has been in that location “for a number of years,” and was installed “because of vandalism and harassing attacks” as well as tens of thousands of dollars of thefts over the past three decades.

The camera’s footage is only accessible to Eagar’s lab manager, and is “stored for several weeks until the disk is full and it is overwritten,” Eagar said.

Eagar said there is “no regular monitoring” of the footage, and it has “only been viewed on less than a handful of occasions,” most recently in conjunction with a police investigation of an $8,000 theft of copper pipe from a nearby classroom.

Eagar said he was receptive to an MIT Policy on the use of cameras. “We need to be aware of the potential for abuse and protect against such abuse, just as we need a reasonable level of security,” he said.

So what if there was a hack?

Would camera footage be used to identify and punish perpetrators? The Tech asked Komola what would happen if Lobby 10 cameras had captured a hack in progress.

“If the cameras were in place during a hack, then [MIT Police Chief] John DiFava or [MIT Police Chief of Staff] Al Pierce would have to determine if the act rose to the level of a criminal activity,” he said. “Only then, would an authorized request be submitted to the Security & Emergency Management Office for the release of a video. Not unlike the card data request, the video must be requested within 14 days.”

Data retention policies

Komola said that the security office did indeed have a policy on camera footage, and that it was similar to the policy governing the records from ID card access points.

The ID policy, at, states that card data, “is kept confidential and is only available for a brief period of time.”

In the course of a criminal investigation, “The MIT Police Department is the sole entity that may request and use this information,” and “a written request must be signed and presented by the Chief of MIT Police”

Presumably MIT would also furnish that data in response to a court-ordered subpoena as long as it is consistent with the laws regarding handling of student records, namely FERPA — the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act — which requires schools to restrict the release of student records.