Detecting Terrorists With "Big Brother" Software

Detecting Terrorists With "Big Brother" Software

U.S.-based mass transit agencies may soon adopt technology to detect terrorism, despite the public’s suspicion surrounding high-tech surveillance programs.

San Francisco’s Municipal Transit Authority plans to spend $2.2 million on AISight surveillance cameras, which use behavior recognition software to identify abnormal activity and alert authorities to suspicions.

MUNI transit stations will house 22 AISight cameras, which will first record “normal” passenger behavior to later compare with unusual situations like prolonged loitering and abandoned packages.

AISight cameras, created by BRS Labs, contain algorithms that learn from video footage and can translate suspicious film clips into real-time text alerts for security staff.

Intelligent surveillance cameras like these may soon monitor critical infrastructure in the U.S., where surveillance market will grow to $41 billion by 2014, according to ABI Research. Already, BRS Labs has joined forces with the Entelec security firm, which protects skyscrapers and airport terminals with its Sky-Walker surveillance management system.

Together, the two businesses plan to “offer a complete solution for enterprise security and public safety,” according to BRS vice president John Convy.

But the public may equate Sky-Walker with SkyNet, as people grow increasingly disgruntled with Big Brother-like monitoring.

Since 9/11, for example, the Patriot Act has developed surveillance technology to detect terrorists but angered citizens who continue to deride it as invasive and ineffective. The Transportation Security Administration has borne the brunt of this backlash, as disgruntled airport travelers continue to malign what they view as unnecessarily revealing body scanners.

Police, too, have experienced public resentment for tracing citizens’ cell phones, prompting the ACLU to demand that the Department of Justice outlaw warrantless tracking.

Even private security apps like Citizen Concepts, which allows ordinary people to track and report suspicious neighborhood activity face criticism for crossing the line into privacy invasion.

“Some bloggers don’t think this is a good idea, they’re likening it to Nazi Germany,” said Roy Swiger, the PatriotApp’s developer. “But I look at this basically as an instrument that can be used by folks to rapidly get tips online for various agencies all in one organized place.”

In light of the controversy sparked by these innovations, new developments in facial recognition technology may make citizens even more wary of security systems.

Apple recently patented an “Electronic Device Operation Adjustment Based on Face Detection,” suggesting iPhones may soon recognize their users’ faces. This technology may help airport and transit security officials compile a database of potential criminals, which is reassuring or terrifying, depending on one’s viewpoint.

Government-based surveillance systems may succeed in preventing some crimes, especially as technology grows to include smart systems and facial recognition. But these developments may come at a great cost to public privacy.

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