Persistent Aerial Surveillance: Do We Want To Go There, America?

The Washington Post ran a story Thursday on a technology that I've been very concerned about for a while: persistent aerial surveillance. Specifically, it profiled a company, Persistent Surveillance Solutions, that has been deploying this panoptic video technology over American cities, as well as in Mexico.

This technology first came to our attention when we got reports from activists in Dayton, Ohio, that the police there had tested it. Some months later, I came across the president of the company, Ross McNutt, giving a demonstration at a drones conference in Orlando. The demonstration was fascinating and compelling, and will no doubt be very persuasive to a lot of people. To me, as a privacy advocate, it was terrifying.

Spying the "ACLU" printed on my badge, McNutt immediately sought to engage with me and followed up with a request for a meeting. A few months later, he was in my office explaining the technology, answering my questions, and pressing his case for why we should not be concerned. Much of what he told me echoed what he apparently told Craig Timberg for the Post's story, such as the limits on the resolution of his system, and his plans, as camera resolution improves, to use that improvement to increase his coverage area rather than the pixel count of the images collected. (He pointed out that covering a larger area is a square function, requiring exponential increases in capacity.) He also told me:

  • The system "can't tell the difference between a person and a bush sitting in a back yard, unless you move."
  • "We only do major crimes; it's all we have time for."
  • His signal is updated only one time per second, a frame rate that, while very slow by video standards, "is more than adequate to follow vehicles."
  • The Dayton police chief wants to "bring in at-risk youth in and show them what we can do," purely for the deterrent effect.
  • "We can watch half of Dayton at once."
  • "Of thousands of moving vehicles, we're interested in just a couple."
  • Though meaningless in the city, "on the border we can do movement detection."
  • He envisions communities being presented with a range of policy options on questions such as data retention, which he compared to the IE browser privacy slider. "My analyst should be trained, subject to oversight and policies, and able to say 'no' to the cop sitting next to him."

I also asked McNutt about the ability to log and store location movements on a mass scale. What he told me is that automated location-trail logging is still very limited. He said the Air Force has been working on it for 10 years, and "is failing with automated tracking." In contrast, "Ours is a manpower-intensive system" in which analysts manually, visually trace movements from a crime scene. He said their current policy was that they "only start from a reported crime," and that typically analysts working for his company will "put everything together" overnight, and then present detectives with a detailed incident report.

I give McNutt credit for reaching out to us, for answering my questions seemingly frankly and straightforwardly, and for thinking about the privacy dimensions of what his company does. And some aspects of his service, such as the low resolution and the labor-intensive nature of the analysis, do offer some comfort.

In the end, however, this is not about McNutt or even his company; it's a much bigger issue that we're confronting. The fact is, this technology has arrived, and we should not take comfort in the various limitations imposed by current technology (which will be wiped out by time and progress) or by self-restraint on the part of McNutt and his company (which always ends up falling by the wayside, if not by one company than by its competitors). As McNutt himself pointed out to me, "someone is going to do this."

That is, if we decide to permit it. When I saw McNutt's presentation in Orlando, I thought to myself, "Here we are, this is where the rubber hits the road." This technology like nothing else outside the NSA confronts us with the question of whether we want to go (continue) down the path of becoming a "collect it all" society, where everything we do is stored so that the authorities can hit "rewind" on our lives should we for some reason come to their attention.

The Post points out that Americans have become increasingly accepting of video surveillance cameras. But drones have provoked huge opposition and concern across the country, and this technology does exactly what everyone has feared that drones would do—except it uses manned aircraft instead of drones to get around the current legal restrictions on unmanned flight. In a rational world the reaction against drones will translate to a reaction against persistent aerial surveillance in general.

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Teame Zazzu

The use of Wide Area Persistent Surveillance systems for domestic police action is the embodiment of the police-surveillance-state and an existential threat to democracy, civil liberties and Constitutional rights.

Several statements from the Govt/Corporate revolving-door Lt Col Ross Mcnutt and his police cooperators expose the ever increasing rampant disregard for citizen’s rights as defense contractors seek new revenue streams and new victims. The disingenuous arguments they present quickly fall apart under closer examination.

First, Mcnutt’s assertion that “automated location-trail logging is still very limited” and that tracking cars and pedestrians is labor intensive is plainly false. Implying that specific people are tracked (rather than everyone being under perpetual surveillance) ignores that everyone is having their movements recorded and databased for review at any time in the future.

“We only do major crimes; it's all we have time for." - Mcnutt

In fact, Dayton police Chief Richard Biehl has already implied this tech could be used for minor crimes including speeding, illegal parking and illegal dumping (http://www.newsnet5.com/news/state/proposed-aerial-surveillance-concerns-dayton-residents).
One simply needs to search PV Labs PSI 3000, Teame Zazzu or ARGUS IS to view video’s proving that dragnet automatic geo-location data is already functional and deployed. (www.youtube.com/watch?v=JOo_YQR_D18) Teame Zazzu evidence shows WAPS systems can track each pedestrian and vehicle inside an individually numbered “bounding box” that is tracked indefinitely while generating a chronograph of each person’s movements. (www.youtube.com/watch?v=gyKkBLtjKro)
Using Aerostats, Blimps, Drones and other long endurance vehicles allows this data to be collected for months at a time. While Mcnutt’s specific system may pre-date these advances as he turned his knowledge of military surveillance inward for profit, but the DOD is already using this technology.

“The system "can't tell the difference between a person and a bush sitting in a back yard, unless you move." - Mcnutt

As can be seen in the videos, ARGUS and PSI 3000 are clearly capable of identifying individuals, especially when one takes into account that this overhead surveillance is cross indexed with traffic cameras at transit chokepoints and cell phone meta-data to connect your pattern of life data to your specific identify. WAPS systems are growing increasingly advanced and musn’t be judged based on this one dated system.

"Of thousands of moving vehicles, we're interested in just a couple." - Mcnutt

In an environment of perpetual warrantless drag-net tracking of civilians, this statement is disingenuous at best. Creating a database of everyone’s movements and archiving that data for forensic discovery and exploitation hardly limits interest to “a couple” vehicles or people. One should also remember that motion tracking software may be applied to electro-optical data at anytime in the future, creating exponentially more powerful methods of information extraction and exploitation.

"We can watch half of Dayton at once." - Mcnutt

In reality, WAPS is cross indexed with traffic cameras, red light cameras, automatic license plate readers, retail purchasing records, phone meta-data and vehicle GPS. These systems can be further exploited with back-end software including facial recognition, not in place during recording and thus never exposed to oversight or restrictions. With the ever expanding capabilities of WAPS systems, the exploitable surveillance coverage area will exponentially increase as it already has. WAPS systems are now available that track 68 square miles and more with enough clarity to recognize bird species.

The Dayton police chief wants to "bring in at-risk youth in and show them what we can do," purely for the deterrent effect. “I want them to be worried that we’re watching,” Biehl said. “I want them to be worried that they never know when we’re overhead.”
The police want to use the “chilling effect” od dragnet perpetual surveillance against US citizens. Remember that “At-risk” basically means all school-aged youth that the police want to intimidate. Raising children to believe they are constantly under control have no hope of privacy and are being watched 24/7 is as clearly Orwellian as it sounds.

Allowing WAPS for domestic law enforcement is an existential threat to liberty and democracy. America was founded on the rejection of wholesale and untargeted surveillance and cannot bear to live under the “eye of Sauron”. Join Teame Zazzu in opposing warrantless dragnet tracking and surveillance of US citizens!!!!

For more info about WAPS search Teame Zazzu

Anonymous

The use of Wide Area Persistent Surveillance systems for domestic police action is the embodiment of the police-surveillance-state and an existential threat to democracy, civil liberties and Constitutional rights. Several statements from the Govt/Corporate revolving-door Lt Col Ross Mcnutt and his police cooperators expose the ever increasing rampant disregard for citizen’s rights as defense contractors seek new revenue streams and new victims. The disingenuous arguments they present quickly fall apart under closer examination.
First, Mcnutt’s assertion that “automated location-trail logging is still very limited” and that tracking cars and pedestrians is labor intensive is plainly false. Implying that specific people are tracked (rather than everyone being under perpetual surveillance) ignores that everyone is having their movements recorded and databased for review at any time in the future. “We only do major crimes; it's all we have time for." In fact, Dayton police Chief Richard Biehl has already implied this tech could be used for minor crimes including speeding, illegal parking and illegal dumping
One simply needs to search PV Labs PSI 3000, Teame Zazzu or ARGUS IS to view video’s proving that dragnet automatic geo-location data is already functional and deployed. Teame Zazzu evidence shows WAPS systems can track each pedestrian and vehicle inside an individually numbered “bounding box” that is tracked indefinitely while generating a chronograph of each person’s movements. Using Aerostats, Blimps, Drones and other long endurance vehicles allows this data to be collected for months at a time. While Mcnutt’s specific system may pre-date these advances as he turned his knowledge of military surveillance inward for profit, but the DOD is already using this technology.
“The system "can't tell the difference between a person and a bush sitting in a back yard, unless you move." - Mcnutt
As can be seen in the videos, ARGUS and PSI 3000 are clearly capable of identifying individuals, especially when one takes into account that this overhead surveillance is cross indexed with traffic cameras at transit chokepoints and cell phone meta-data to connect your pattern of life data to your specific identify. WAPS systems are growing increasingly advanced and musn’t be judged based on this one dated system.
"Of thousands of moving vehicles, we're interested in just a couple." - Mcnutt
In an environment of perpetual warrantless drag-net tracking of civilians, this statement is disingenuous at best. Creating a database of everyone’s movements and archiving that data for forensic discovery and exploitation hardly limits interest to “a couple” vehicles or people. One should also remember that motion tracking software may be applied to electro-optical data at anytime in the future, creating exponentially more powerful methods of information extraction and exploitation.

"We can watch half of Dayton at once." - Mcnutt
In reality, WAPS is cross indexed with traffic cameras, red light cameras, automatic license plate readers, retail purchasing records, phone meta-data and vehicle GPS. These systems can be further exploited with back-end software including facial recognition, not in place during recording and thus never exposed to oversight or restrictions. With the ever expanding capabilities of WAPS systems, the exploitable surveillance coverage area will exponentially increase as it already has. WAPS systems are now available that track 68 square miles and more with enough clarity to recognize bird species.
The Dayton police chief wants to "bring in at-risk youth in and show them what we can do," purely for the deterrent effect. “I want them to be worried that we’re watching,” Biehl said. “I want them to be worried that they never know when we’re overhead.”
The police want to use the “chilling effect” of dragnet perpetual surveillance against US citizens. Remember that “At-risk” basically means all school-aged youth that the police want to intimidate. Raising children to believe they are constantly under control have no hope of privacy and are being watched 24/7 is as clearly Orwellian as it sounds.
Allowing WAPS for domestic law enforcement is an existential threat to liberty and democracy. America was founded on the rejection of wholesale and untargeted surveillance and cannot bear to live under the “eye of Sauron”. Join Teame Zazzu in opposing warrantless dragnet tracking and surveillance of US citizens!!!!

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