The Sideshow

New surveillance technology capable of watching you, and you and you too

It sounds like something out of a paranoid Hollywood thriller. New surveillance technology that can keep tabs on people — lots of people — for hours at a time. 

This isn't some Michael Bay script, though. The technology is real and, according to an in-depth report by the Washington Post, already being used to solve violent crimes.

Persistent Surveillance Systems is the organization behind the technology. The company, based in Dayton, Ohio, explained to the Post how it works, as well as some steps the company has taken to assuage privacy concerns.

It starts with an eye in the sky: A small Cessna plane flying in a two-mile radius, 8,000 to 10,000 feet in the air for hours at a time. The plane is equipped with 12 high-resolution cameras that take photos every second, according to the Post. The cameras can't detect a person's identity (people and vehicles appear as a pixel), but they can track movement over time, which can often lead to an identification and arrest.

Ross McNutt, president of Persistent Surveillance Systems, told the Post that he wants to use the systems around the country. They have been demonstrated in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Compton, California. They have already solved one crime in Dayton, McNutt told the Post.

McNutt also said he met with leaders of the American Civil Liberties Union to help develop a privacy policy for the technology. According to the Post, police who use the system aren't supposed to examine footage until a crime has been committed, in order to prevent law enforcement "fishing expeditions."

Still, some privacy advocates remain concerned.

From the Post:

"If you turn your country into a totalitarian surveillance state, there’s always some wrongdoing you can prevent,” said Jay Stanley, a privacy expert with the American Civil Liberties Union. “The balance struck in our Constitution tilts toward liberty, and I think we should keep that value.”

"Totalitarian surveillance state" might be a bit strong, but plenty of Americans have said they are worried about the ever-expanding possibility of incursion into their private lives. The growing use of drones, for everything from fighting terrorists to delivering tacos, is an example. Some communities are attempting to enact laws that limit their use. In Minnesota, state lawmakers are considering enacting standards for the controversial technology, according to an AP report.

Minnesota state Rep. Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge, told AP he doesn't want to limit the effectiveness of law enforcement. “This is an attempt to balance the needs of law enforcement and the civil rights of Minnesotans and their privacy,” he said. “We want to make sure we use it properly.”

In Deer Trail, Colo., residents plan to vote on whether to make it legal to "hunt" federal drones. The election is scheduled to take place sometime after April 1, the Denver Channel reports.

Even whales are seeing their privacy disappear. According to a report from CBS News 8, whale watchers are now using drones.

Follow Mike Krumboltz on Twitter (@mikekrumboltz).

View Comments (1379)