Political Protection: High-Tech Security at the National Conventions
With the Republican National Convention coming up in Tampa, and the Democrats convening in Charlotte, officials are turning to high-tech security to keep events safe. But the way they adopt technology to check and safeguard crowds may infuriate protesters already wary about privacy intrusions.
Just as Facebook uses facial recognition software to help tag people in photos, Tampa plans to use behavioral recognition software to scan crowds for possibly suspicious activities. John Frazzini, president of security company BRS Labs, confirmed it set up AISight cameras that can analyze crowd behavior.
The cameras use artificial intelligence to scan for abnormal gatherings, so security can use the technology to send out backup to areas deemed potentially dangerous. And Tampa isn't the first place investing in AISight. San Francisco's Municipal Transit Authority intends to spend $2.2 million on the same technology for the subway stations. The 22 cameras will record commuter behavior and use its AI technology to decide when passengers deviate from normal behavior.
San Francisco officials worry about terrorist threats, just like Tampa, but since both cities want to leave the cameras up and analyze citizen behavior year-round, they're drawing concern from privacy advocates. The cameras record and analyze behavior all the time, not just during major events, meaning everyone who rides the subway is not only recorded but also analyzed.
If Charlotte is also using AISight, they've done an excellent job keeping it under wraps, with little confirmed about the specifics of their camera security at the Democratic convention. One thing is certain: they will have over 500 security cameras set up during the DNC around Labor Day.
In addition to the AISight, Tampa is spending $1.8 million on digital video technology. The security in Florida may be enough to handle threats, but Tropical Storm Isaac could end up destroying the equipment they spent so much money assembling.
Big Events, Big Risks
These conventions will feature fervent, heartfelt celebration, but outside the events' perimeters, plenty of protesters are expected to meet, with the potential for conflict between police and activists. This is par for the course for political events, but even less ideologically tilted events like the Olympics and the Super Bowl face their fair share of security threats, and rely on technological innovations to keep patrons safe.
For example, Scotland Yard developed its own facial recognition software for the London Olympics, but ended up using it early during the London Riots in 2011. And though the Olympics ended without any incident resembling the chaotic rioting a year earlier, future iterations of the Games are likely to have even more advanced face and behavior recognition software.
Organizers of big events may also adopt the NFL's policy towards social media. In preparation for the Super Bowl, which is considered a prime terrorist target, the NFL paid a private security company to watch social media.
Two Can Play at That Game
As big event organizers and city officials beef up their digital security efforts, they're often challenged to keep one step ahead of the technological savvy of protesters. Even with both Charlotte and Tampa pouring resources into boosting security, there's still the potential for protesters and hackers to wreak havoc.
For instance, researchers revealed how hackers rip people off using NFC, and big events are the perfect setting for widespread scams because people dropping lots of money are often distracted by the hubbub. Even though hacking collectives like Anonymous focus more on social justice than identity theft scams, they can still throw huge events for a loop if they orchestrate security breaches, so Interpol and other officials are doubling down on efforts to catch Anonymous members.
The use of Facebook and Twitter during the Arab Spring showcased what a powerful tool social media is, especially if people want to work around restrictive governments and oppressive regimes. There's a dark side to this kind of organization, since terrorists can use these technologies to their advantage as well.
The U.S. government supported protesters in nations like Egypt, but those in charge of the conventions in Tampa and Charlotte have to balance how much they stifle the cries of activists in their push to ramp up public security. Participants in the Occupy movement in North America also used social media and mobile technology as potent organizing tools, documenting and coordinating their actions through smartphones and social networks.
Occupy protesters expect to make appearances at both conventions, although they are likely to have a more robust presence in Tampa, since GOP ideology is especially hostile to their aims. The RNC also faces threats from anarchist political groups, so officials will likely use all the resources at their disposal, including the behavioral recognition software, to quell unrest. ♦
Categories: News Desk