Urban Spying System Would Eye Vehicles
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 city.
Dubbed “Combat Zones That See,” the project is designed to help the U.S. military protect troops and fight in cities overseas.
Police, scientists and privacy experts say the unclassified technology could easily be adapted to spy on Americans.
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 face.
According to interviews and contracting documents, the software may also provide instant alerts after detecting a vehicle with a license plate on a watch list, 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 to combat terrorism and fight wars.
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.
Scientists and privacy experts -- who already have seen the use of face-recognition technologies at a Super Bowl and monitoring cameras in London -- expressed concern about the potential impact of the emerging DARPA technologies if they are applied to civilians by commercial or government agencies outside the Pentagon.
“Government would have a reasonably good idea of where everyone is most of the time,” said John Pike, a Global Security.org defense analyst.
DARPA spokeswoman Jan Walker dismissed those concerns. She said the Combat Zones That See technology isn’t intended for homeland security or law enforcement and couldn’t be used for “other applications without extensive modifications.”
But 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 Scientists.