New, far more powerful generation of surveillance camera being quietly deployed
New cameras provide wealth of data that police, businesses and even private individuals can use
Surveillance cameras - or "Big Brother" as novelist George Orwell once predicted, have become mundane and commonplace in modern life. There are used in stores, banks and open areas as an aid to private security. What's not generally known is that there is a far more sophisticated surveillance camera being developed - and deployed under the noses of the general public. What these new cameras can do is a bit . discomfiting.
A persistent surveillance system (PSS) launches from Forward Operating Base Khilegay, Afghanistan, Dec. 30, 2010. The PSS consists of an aerostat, also called a blimp, and mounted camera equipment capable of high-resolution imagery and high-quality video that provides instant situational awareness throughout the region.
These cameras have already been flown above major public events such as the Ohio political rally where Sen. John McCain named Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008. They've even been used in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Compton, California.
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While defense contractors are developing similar technology for the military, its use with civilian populations has raised privacy concerns. Persistent Surveillance Systems, at the forefront of this new technology and located in Dayton, Ohio, city officials protested last year when police considered paying 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," opponent Joel Pruce, a University of Dayton postdoctoral fellow in human rights says. "You know where there's a lot less crime? There's a lot less crime in China."
Police using aerial surveillance has been allowed by the Supreme Court as long as the photography captures images visible to the naked eye.
President of Persistent Surveillance Systems, Ross McNutt, a retired Air Force officer who once helped design a similar system for the skies above Fallujah, hopes to win over officials in Dayton and elsewhere by convincing them that cameras mounted on fixed-wing aircraft can provide far more useful intelligence than police helicopters do -- and for less money.
A single camera mounted atop the Washington Monument, McNutt insists, could deter crime all around the Mall. He said regular flights over the most dangerous parts of Washington - combined with publicity about how much police could see - would make a significant dent in the number of burglaries, robberies and murders.
His cameras 192-megapixel cameras would spot as many as 50 crimes per six-hour flight, providing police with a continuous stream of images covering more than a third of the city.
"We watch 25 square miles, so you see lots of crimes," he said. "And by the way, after people commit crimes, they drive like idiots."
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