Powerful New Surveillance Technology Can Track Anyone, Anywhere

Thursday, 06 Feb 2014 09:52 AM

By Lisa Barron

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A new class of surveillance cameras is able to monitor an area the size of a small city for hours on end, and that has privacy advocates up in arms.

The cameras, developed by Ohio-based Persistent Surveillance Systems, are mounted on a fixed wing aircraft, allowing them to see every vehicle and person up to 25 miles away, reports The Washington Post.

The company's president, Ross McNutt, a former Air Force officer who helped design a similar surveillance system for use in wartime Iraq, told the Post he hopes to work with law enforcement agencies around the country to help them deter and solve crime.

He said they have already been flown above Dayton, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Compton, California in demonstrations for local police.

But officials in Dayton have rejected a plan by that city's police force to pay for 200 hours of flights.

"There are an infinite number of surveillance technologies that would help solve crimes…but there are reasons that we don't do those things, or shouldn't be doing those things," Joel Pruce, a University of Dayton postdoctoral fellow in human rights, told the Post.

"You know where there's a lot less crime? There's a lot less crime in China," he added.

McNutt maintains that his company's privacy policy addresses those concerns. There are rules on how long data can be kept as well as when images can be accessed and by whom. And police are not supposed to look at the pictures unless a crime has been reported.

But some civil liberties advocates say that is not enough. "If you turn your country into a totalitarian surveillance state, there's always some wrongdoing you can prevent," Jan Stanley, a privacy expert with the American Civil Liberties Union, told the Post.

"The balance struck in our Constitution tilts toward liberty, and I think we should keep that value."

A similar dilemma surrounds the Pentagon's new plan to improve the defense system around Washington, D.C.

Starting this fall, two blimps will float at 10,000 feet over the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland as a means of guarding against cruise missiles fired from ships offshore, reports CBS News.

The blimps carry radars able to detect the launch of a cruise missiles and relaying the data to interceptor missiles that have been positioned around the nation's capital since 9/11.

They can also be equipped with cameras capable of watching people, as they already do at U.S. bases in Afghanistan.

Although military officials have reportedly said they do not plan to put cameras on the blimps, there is nothing stopping them from doing so.

"Right now there are no rules," Christopher Calabrese of the ACLU told CBS. "There's nothing that bars us from having high-powered cameras monitoring our every public movement."

See video below.

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