Secret Surveillance: Is The Eye In The Sky Watching You?
An armed robbery takes place. Men in masks with shotguns pull up in a white van to the 1st National. Three get out, enter the bank and shots are fired. 90 Seconds later they exit the bank and speed off. It’s 2 minutes before the police arrive and the robbers are long gone. What’s to be done?
Now, what if the police department had every step of this crime recorded? And even further, they could rewind, like your DVR, and see where the men set out from and their faces before they donned the masks. Then they could fast forward and see where they dumped the white van, changed vehicles and where they are right now. “It’s almost like the police have a time machine!” Sounds like surveillance science fiction? It’s happening now.
While doing research for my new thriller novel, NOT SO DEAD, I came across just the technology described above called Persistent Surveillance (“PS”). PS is the brainchild of Ross McNutt, Air Force Academy graduate, physicist, and MIT-trained astronautical engineer who in 2004 founded the Air Force’s Center for Rapid Product Development.
“It’s almost like the police have a time machine!”
Surveillance: Covering Every Inch of A City
In NOT SO DEAD, Homeland Security tracks my fictional terrorist in New York City. In real life, The Baltimore and Dayton, Ohio police departments have used Persistent Surveillance to track criminals from start to finish in the commission of crimes. PS actually tracks all activity out in the open on every Street in the city for which it is deployed within a 5 mile radius. In Baltimore, they covered 32 miles.. So any crime that takes place in the open can be tracked past present and future to its inevitable arrest and conclusion.
PS uses light aircraft circling over a city 24/7 to watch and record all activities on every street. Unlike traditional satellite surveillance where the camera is taking pinhole video, the mounted cameras on the PS aircraft take wide-area images.Then using hi-tech software that stitches the images together, operators are able to piece together the string of activities that take place on the recordings from start to finish.
Privacy vs. Security
How widespread is the use of persistent surveillance? Right now more because of politics and cost, it is only being used in a few cities on a test basis. But McNutt’s hope and vision is that it become more widespread. He bet the farm on it when he founded Persistent Surveillance Systems, Are there opportunities for abuse and invasion of privacy? Certainly you could imagine that scenario, but is the radical lowering of crime and protection of citizens worth it? That’s the constant quandary and paradox of new technologies, like Persistent Surveillance, being tested and used to protect our citizens. What do you think?
Excellent RadioLab Piece
More About PSS
Baltimore’s Secret Eye-In-The-Sky
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