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Wireless tech gets workout at RNC

Protesters and federal agents are using new tools to communicate with cohorts during the Republican National Convention.

New communication technologies are getting an airing by federal agents and protesters alike at the Republican National Convention in New York City.

While surveillance cameras are standard in security, the Federal Protective Service, a government security organization within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, has taken the concept one step further for this week's convention. It has mounted tiny video cameras onto agents' helmets to give commanders a real-time view of what is happening around federal buildings throughout New York City.

Footage is transmitted over a wireless network back to a mobile command center. Each camera enables the commanders there to observe a situation just as the officer on the street sees it.

"It's very difficult to assess a situation through radio transmission alone," said Garrison Courtney, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security. "And if a seasoned officer sitting in headquarters can see what's really going on, he can advise the people on the ground how to respond if someone is getting out of hand. It's just better policing."

In addition, the agency is putting its new Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN) to the test at the convention. The Internet-based network, established in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., is designed to connect homeland security officials, state and local leadership, and emergency services crews. The network made its security event debut in May during the G8 Summit at Sea Island, Ga. It was also used during the Democratic National Convention in Boston. But the Republican National Convention is by far the biggest security event it has been put to use for.

"New York City has a population of about 9 million, and Boston has something like 600,000," Courtney said. "I wouldn't say the DNC wasn't a big deal, but when you're dealing with a city the size of New York and when you take into account that it's been a terrorist target in the past, it's a bigger task."

The Department of Homeland Security was criticized recently for falling behind in efforts to connect local and federal government agencies together.

Protesters are also using new technology to disseminate information. In addition to setting up Web sites that provide information on everything from free lodging to scheduled events to legal advice in case of an arrest, activists are also communicating via short text messages on mobile phones.

An art and engineering collective called the Institute for Applied Autonomy has developed a text messaging service it calls TxtMob. According to the collective's Web site, TxtMob enables people to quickly and easily share messages with groups of cell phone users. The format is similar to an e-mail bulletin board system, where people sign up and provide their phone numbers and e-mail addresses to receive alerts.

TxtMob was used in Boston at the Democratic National Convention to provide activists with up-to-the-minute information about police movements, the Institute for Applied Autonomy said earlier this month in a statement. Medical and legal support groups used TxtMob to dispatch personnel and resources as the situation demanded, it said, and more than 200 protestors used the service during the Democratic convention. The collective is working with protest organizers at the Republican convention.

Mobile bloggers, or mobloggers, have also come on the scene. Armed with camera phones, they can quickly post pictures, text and short videos online, to their Web log or elsewhere, to report on events. Moport.org offers free tools to help mobile bloggers put their photos up on its Web site for the world to see.

"Fifteen thousand media representatives will be covering the convention, but we don't think they can necessarily handle the job--especially with 250,000 protesters, 10,000 police officers and 5,000 delegates in attendance," Moport.org said on its Web site. "So, if you plan to be in NYC for this event, become a RNC MoPorter and group broadcast your perspective to the Web."