Pentagon system hopes to identify walks
Pentagon anti-terror surveillance system hopes to identify people
by the way they walk By MICHAEL J. SNIFFEN
WASHINGTON (AP)--Watch your step! The Pentagon is developing a
radar-based device that can identify people by the way they walk,
for use in a new antiterrorist surveillance system.
Operating on the theory that an individual's walk is as unique as
a signature, the Pentagon has financed a research project at the
Georgia Institute of Technology that has been 80 to 95 percent
successful in identifying people.
If the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA,
orders a prototype, the individual ``gait signatures'' of people
could become part of the data to be linked together in a vast
surveillance system the Pentagon agency calls Total Information
That system already has raised privacy alarms on both ends of the
political spectrum, and Congress in February barred its use against
American citizens without further congressional review.
Nevertheless, government documents reviewed by The Associated
Press show that scores of major defense contractors and prominent
universities applied last year for the first research contracts to
design and build the surveillance and analysis system.
DARPA is the federal agency that helped develop the Internet as a
research tool for universities and government contractors. Its
newest project is massive by any measure.
In its advice to contractors, DARPA declared, ``The amounts of
data that will need to be stored and accessed will be unprecedented,
measured in petabytes.''
One petabyte would dwarf most existing databases; it's roughly
equal to 50 times the Library of Congress, which holds more than 18
Conceived and managed by retired Adm. John Poindexter, the TIA
surveillance system is based on his theory that ``terrorists must
engage in certain transactions to coordinate and conduct attacks
against Americans, and these transactions form patterns that may be
DARPA said the goal is to draw conclusions and predictions about
terrorists from databases that record such transactions as passport
applications, visas, work permits, driver's licenses, car rentals,
airline ticket purchases, arrests or reports of suspicious
Other databases DARPA wants to access include financial,
education, medical and housing records and biometric identification
databases based on fingerprints, irises, facial shapes and gait.
TIA is an effort to design breakthrough software ``for treating
these databases as a virtual, centralized grand database'' capable
of being quickly mined by counterintelligence officers even though
the data will be held in many places, many languages and many
formats, DARPA documents say.
One goal is to provide ``focused warnings within an hour after a
triggering event occurs,'' the documents say.
Poindexter's plan would integrate some projects DARPA has been
working on for several years, including research headed by Gene
Greneker at Georgia Tech.
At a cost of less than $1 million over the past three years, he
has been aiming a 1-foot-square radar dish at 100 test volunteers to
record how they walk. Elsewhere at Georgia Tech, DARPA is funding
other researchers to use video cameras and computers to try to
develop distinctive gait signatures.
``One of the nice things about radar is we see through bad
weather, darkness, even a heavy robe shrouding the legs, and video
cameras can't,'' Greneker said in an interview. ``At 600 feet we can
do quite well.''
And the target doesn't have to be doing a Michael Jackson
moonwalk to be distinctive because the radar detects small frequency
shifts in the reflected signal off legs, arms and the torso as they
move in a combination of different speeds and directions.
``There's a signature that's somewhat unique to the individual,''
Greneker said. ``We've demonstrated proof of this concept.''
The researchers are anticipating ways the system might be fooled.
``A woman switching from flats to high heels probably wouldn't
change her signature significantly,'' Greneker said. ``But if she
switched to combat boots, that might have a difference.''
The system could be used by embassy security officers to conclude
that a shadowy figure observed a few hundred feet away at night or
in heavy clothing on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday was the same
person and should be investigated further to see if he was casing
the building for an attack, Greneker said.
At a restricted facility, the technology could warn security
officers that an approaching person was probably not an employee by
comparing his gait with those on file. ``And we now know how to
detect people who are carrying heavy packages, which could include a
25-pound bomb in a backpack,'' Greneker said.
Greneker hasn't gotten caught up in the privacy debate. ``We are
research and development people. We think about what's possible, not
what the government will do with it. That's somebody else's job. And
this isn't a weapons system.''
DARPA contracting records made available through a Freedom of
Information lawsuit filed by the Electronic Privacy Information
Center, a privacy advocacy group, show Poindexter agreed to fund 26
research projects and rejected 154 others through last Dec. 4. Other
DARPA contract award data were released under FOIA to the Center for
Public Integrity, an ethics advocacy group.
One of the largest was a contract for up to $27 million to
Veridian Systems Division of Arlington, Va., to design software to
allow ``intelligence analysts and decision makers to jointly
participate in the development of a full range of contingencies.''
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