It’s one of the dumbest cliches in Hollywood: The police find a criminal by clicking the “Enhance” button. Of course, that’s not reality at all! Unless you happen to be in Compton! And soon, everywhere! Welcome to the world of ‘wide-area surveillance.’
The Center for Investigative Reporting recently visited the headquarters of Persistent Surveillance Systems to see their technology in action. Essentially, it gives the police TiVo across a truly ridiculous span of time and space:
The system, known as wide-area surveillance, is something of a time machine – the entire city is filmed and recorded in real time. Imagine Google Earth with a rewind button and the ability to play back the movement of cars and people as they scurry about the city.
“We literally watched all of Compton during the time that we were flying, so we could zoom in anywhere within the city of Compton and follow cars and see people,” McNutt said.
How does this not violate your privacy if, say, you happen to be sunbathing nude on your property or otherwise engaging in something private outdoors, on your private property, that isn’t illegal or of police interest? Well, the police can’t see your face, so that’s OK, right?
No, really. That’s their argument. The idea is that as you track the crime, you can also pull surveillance video from other sources along the route a criminal takes to, say, track a car used in a crime or see what building he goes into. Oh, and did we mention this is cheaper than a helicopter and can be crammed into a Cessna? Two of these setups could, in theory, keep a city under 24-hour top-down surveillance.
It’s really a question of proportion. To be honest, the biggest problem here is the fact that nobody admits that these systems will, inevitably, in some way, be abused or otherwise misused. This delusion runs across all these programs, and it needs to stop. Maybe by acknowledging the potential for misuse, we can balance public safety and civil rights? Just a thought.