Skip to comments.U.S. cops eye spy cameras (DARPA’s software)
Posted on 07/02/2003 8:26:12 PM PDT by furnitureman
U.S. cops eye spy cameras
Mike Luippold works on a surveillance camera at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco recently. DARPAs software could identify vehicles by size, colour, shape and license tag, and even by the faces of drivers and passengers. Photo: George Nikitin/AP
WASHINGTON Police can envision limited domestic uses for an urban surveillance system the Pentagon is developing but doubt they could use the full system, which is designed to track and analyze the movement of every vehicle in a city.
Dubbed "Combat Zones That See," the project is intended to help the U.S. military protect troops and fight in cities overseas.
Scientists and privacy experts say the unclassified technology also could easily be adapted to keep tabs on Americans.
The project's centrepiece would be groundbreaking computer software capable of automatically identifying vehicles by size, colour, shape and licence tag, or drivers and passengers by face.
The proposed software also would provide instant alerts after detecting a vehicle with a licence plate on a watchlist, or search months of records to locate and compare vehicles spotted near terrorist attacks, according to interviews and contracting documents reviewed by The Associated Press.
The Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, which develops technologies for fighting 21st century wars, is overseeing the project.
Scientists and privacy experts who have seen face-recognition technology used at a Super Bowl and monitoring cameras in London are concerned about the potential impact of the emerging DARPA technologies if they are applied to civilians by commercial or government agencies outside the Pentagon.
"Government would have a reasonably good idea of where everyone is most of the time," said John Pike, a Global Security.org defence analyst.
DARPA spokeswoman Jan Walker dismisses those concerns. She said the Combat Zones That See (CTS) technology isn't intended for homeland security or law enforcement and couldn't be used for "other applications without extensive modifications."
But scientists envision nonmilitary uses. "One can easily foresee pressure to adopt a similar approach to crime-ridden areas of American cities or to the Super Bowl or any site where crowds gather," said Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists.
James Fyfe, a deputy New York police commissioner, believes police will be ready customers.
"Police executives are saying, `Shouldn't we just buy new technology if there's a chance it might help us?'" Mr. Fyfe said. "That's the post-9-11 mentality."
Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske sees law enforcement applications for DARPA's camera project in "limited" scenarios. But citywide surveillance would tax police manpower, Chief Kerlikowske said. "Who's going to validate and corroborate all those alerts?"
Mr. Fyfe endorses using cameras at high-risk sites, like the Brooklyn Bridge, but doubts the value of tracking all vehicles. "The bad guys will learn we can track cars by license plates, so they'll steal a car, leave it at the scene and flee by subway," he said.
DARPA plans to award a three-year contract for up to $12-million (U.S.) by Sept. 1.
The first phase would help protect troops at a fixed site, using at least 30 cameras, mostly small $400 stick-on devices linked to a $1,000 personal computer. In the second phase, at least 100 cameras would be installed to support "military operations in an urban terrain." Both prototypes should be expandable "to handle ... thousands of cameras."
The second-phase software should be able to analyze the video footage and identify "what is normal [behaviour], what is not" and discover "links between places, subjects and times of activity," the contracting documents state.
The program "aspires to build the world's first multi-camera surveillance system that uses automatic ... analysis of live video" to study vehicle movement "and significant events across an extremely large area," the documents state.
Both configurations will be tested at Fort Belvoir, Va., south of Washington, then in a foreign city. Ms. Walker declined comment on whether Kabul, Afghanistan, or Baghdad, Iraq, might be chosen but says the foreign country's permission will be obtained.
DARPA told more than 100 executives of potential contractors in March that 40 million cameras already are in use around the world, with 300 million expected by 2005. U.S. police use cameras to monitor bridges, tunnels, airports and border crossings and regularly access security cameras in banks, stores and garages for investigative leads.
But many of these cameras record over their videotape regularly. Officers have to monitor the closed-circuit TV and struggle with boredom and loss of attention.
By automating the monitoring and analysis, DARPA "is attempting to create technology that does not exist today," Ms. Walker explained.
Though insisting CTS isn't intended for homeland security, DARPA outlined a hypothetical scenario for contractors in March that showed the system could aid police as well as the military. DARPA described a hypothetical terrorist shooting at a bus stop and a hypothetical bombing at a disco one month apart in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, a city a bit larger than Miami in size and population.
CTS should be able to track the day's movements for every vehicle that passed each scene in the hour before the attack, automatically compare their routes and identify any vehicles with a common starting point.
Joseph Onek of the Open Society Institute, a human-rights group, said current law that permits cameras in public areas might have to be revised to address the privacy implications of these new technologies.
"It's one thing to say that if someone is in the street, he knows that at any single moment someone can see him," Mr. Onek said. "It's another thing to record a whole life so you can see anywhere someone has been in public for 10 years."
Also be sure you cover up the VIN plate on the dash.(if one can get duct tape these days)
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