White House journalists fell under the gaze this week of surveillance cameras that now monitor a stretch of driveway where reporters make sensitive source calls, swap gossip, smoke cigarettes, and gather ahead of events with President Trump.
Cameras may seem like a no-brainer for sensitive public spaces, but White House press areas have few visible security technologies, and the arrival of a pair of large black observation tools attracted attention.
“Big brother is watching,” tweeted photographer Tom Brenner, who frequently covers White House events for The New York Times. The cameras are mounted on a pole near the side door of the White House briefing room.
Although it is protecting the home of the president, White House security can feel trusting. Reporters don't need to take off their shoes or belts when they go through a metal detector at the gate. When Trump decides to take questions, nothing but a knee-height chain separates him from journalists.
It’s unclear what explains the timing, but camera installation occurred a week after Epoch Times photographer Samira Bouaou breached protocol by handing Trump an envelope after a Congressional Medal of Honor ceremony in the East Room.
Before that event, reporters gathered at the “Palm Room doors” area, a stretch of asphalt where reporters assemble for presidential events, such as Rose Garden press conferences and departures of Trump by helicopter on the South Lawn. The area now is observed by a camera.
The other camera points toward the “stakeout location” immediately north of the West Wing, where journalists interview visiting guests, shout questions at passing officials, and observe the arrival of foreign leaders.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders referred questions to the Secret Service.
“The camera installation is part of a scheduled upgrade throughout the complex,” said Secret Service spokesman Jeffrey Adams, who otherwise declined to comment.
White House Correspondents’ Association President Olivier Knox said, however, he has no reason to believe the cameras were installed specifically to observe journalists.
“The cameras cover a big stretch of the White House driveway, and reporters are just some of the people who walk through that area, so at this point, I don’t see a reason to tie this to press activities,” Knox said.
“They did not flag this for me, but that’s unsurprising since the WHCA does not have a role in approving security measures at the White House,” he added.
Knox said he doubts the cameras are connected to the envelope-passing incident involving the Epoch Times, a publication that’s critical of China’s government.
"I’d be very surprised if this had anything to do with the recent Epoch Times situation," he said. "These are not areas in which the president typically interacts with the press."
The Secret Service declined to say if the cameras were installed to address concern about reporter misconduct, and would not provide information on when their installation was scheduled or identify other recent upgrades.
“The Secret Service routinely assesses protective measures at the White House complex," Adams said. "For operational security reasons, the Secret Service cannot discuss specific measures and/or technologies on the White House complex.”