Urban Surveillance System
The Pentagon is developing
an urban surveillance system that would use
computers and thousands of cameras to track and
analyze every vehicle in a city. Designed to help
the military protect troops and fight in cities
overseas, the software could identify vehicles by
size, color, shape and license tag and could
recognize faces of some drivers and passengers.
(AP Photo/George Nikitin)
-- The Pentagon is developing an urban surveillance system
that would use computers and thousands of cameras to track,
record and analyze the movement of every vehicle in a foreign
Dubbed "Combat Zones That See," the project is
designed to help the U.S. military protect troops and fight in
Police, scientists and privacy experts
say the unclassified technology could easily be adapted to spy
The project's centerpiece is
groundbreaking computer software that is capable of
automatically identifying vehicles by size, color, shape and
license tag, or drivers and passengers by
According to interviews and contracting
documents, the software may also provide instant alerts after
detecting a vehicle with a license plate on a watchlist, or
search months of records to locate and compare vehicles
spotted near terrorist activities.
The project is being
overseen by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency,
which is helping the Pentagon develop new technologies for
combatting terrorism and fighting wars in the 21st
Its other projects include developing software
that scans databases of everyday transactions and personal
records worldwide to predict terrorist attacks and creating a
computerized diary that would record and analyze everything a
person says, sees, hears, reads or touches.
and privacy experts - who already have seen the use of
face-recognition technologies 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
"Government would have a reasonably good idea
of where everyone is most of the time," said John Pike, a
Global Security.org defense analyst.
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."
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 American Federation of
demonstrates that it can be done, a number of companies would
likely develop their own version in hope of getting contracts
from local police, nuclear plant security, shopping centers,
even people looking for deadbeat dads."
James Fyfe, a
deputy New York police commissioner, believes police will be
ready customers for such technologies.
executives are saying, `Shouldn't we just buy new technology
if there's a chance it might help us?'" Fyfe said. "That's the
Seattle Police Chief Gil
Kerlikowske said he sees law enforcement applications for
DARPA's urban camera project "in limited scenarios." But
citywide surveillance would tax police manpower, Kerlikowske
said. "Who's going to validate and corroborate all those
According to contracting documents reviewed by
The Associated Press, DARPA plans to award a three-year
contract for up to $12 million by Sept. 1. In the first phase,
at least 30 cameras would help protect troops at a fixed site.
The project would use small $400 stick-on cameras, each linked
to a $1,000 personal computer.
In the second phase, at
least 100 cameras would be installed in 12 hours to support
"military operations in an urban terrain."
second-phase software should be able to analyze the video
footage and identify "what is normal (behavior), what is not"
and discover "links between places, subjects and times of
activity," the contracting documents state.
"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.
configurations will be tested at Ft. Belvoir, Va., south of
Washington, then in a foreign city. Walker declined comment on
whether Kabul, Afghanistan, or Baghdad, Iraq, might be chosen
but says the foreign country's permission will be
DARPA outlined project goals March 27 for
more than 100 executives of potential contractors, including
Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and the Johns Hopkins University
Applied Physics Lab.
DARPA told the contractors 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. In the District of Columbia, police
have 16 closed-circuit television cameras watching major roads
and gathering places.
Great Britain has an estimated
2.5 million closed-circuit television cameras, more than half
operated by government agencies, and the average Londoner is
thought to be photographed 300 times a day.
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," Walker
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 with slightly more residents than Miami.
should be able to track the day's movements for every vehicle
that passed each scene in the hour before the attack, DARPA
said. Even if there were 2,000 such vehicles and none showed
up twice, the software should automatically compare their
routes and find vehicles with common starting and stopping
Joseph Onek of the Open Society Institute, a
human rights group, said current law that permits the use of
cameras in public areas may have to be revised to address the
privacy implications of these new technologies.
one thing to say that if someone is in the street he knows
that at any single moment someone can see him," Onek said.
"It's another thing to record a whole life so you can see
anywhere someone has been in public for 10
7/1/2003 4:05:56 PM
Updated: 7/1/2003 4:08:59
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