DARPA Develops Urban Surveillance System
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U.S. Develops Urban Surveillance System
BY MICHAEL J. SNIFFEN
WASHINGTON - The Pentagon is developing an urban surveillance system that
would use computers and thousands of cameras to track, record and analyze
the movement of every vehicle in a foreign city.
Dubbed "Combat Zones That See," the project is designed to help the U.S.
military protect troops and fight in cities overseas.
DARPA contracting document:
Police, scientists and privacy experts say the unclassified technology
could easily be adapted to spy on Americans.
The project's centerpiece is groundbreaking computer software that is
capable of automatically identifying vehicles by size, color, shape and
license tag, or drivers and passengers by face.
According to interviews and contracting documents, the software may also
provide instant alerts after detecting a vehicle with a license plate on a
watchlist, or search months of records to locate and compare vehicles
spotted near terrorist activities.
The project is being overseen by the Defense Advanced Research Projects
Agency, which is helping the Pentagon develop new technologies for
combatting terrorism and fighting wars in the 21st century.
Its other projects include developing software that scans databases of
everyday transactions and personal records worldwide to predict terrorist
attacks and creating a computerized diary that would record and analyze
everything a person says, sees, hears, reads or touches.
Scientists and privacy experts - who already have seen the use of
face-recognition technologies at a Super Bowl and monitoring cameras in
London - are concerned about the potential impact of the emerging DARPA
technologies if they are applied to civilians by commercial or government
agencies outside the Pentagon.
"Government would have a reasonably good idea of where everyone is most of
the time," said John Pike, a Global Security.org defense analyst.
DARPA spokeswoman Jan Walker dismisses those concerns. She said the Combat
Zones That See (CTS) technology isn't intended for homeland security or law
enforcement and couldn't be used for "other applications without extensive
But scientists envision nonmilitary uses. "One can easily foresee pressure
to adopt a similar approach to crime-ridden areas of American cities or to
the Super Bowl or any site where crowds gather," said Steven Aftergood of
the Federation of American Scientists.
"Once DARPA demonstrates that it can be done, a number of companies would
likely develop their own version in hope of getting contracts from local
police, nuclear plant security, shopping centers, even people looking for
James Fyfe, a deputy New York police commissioner, believes police will be
ready customers for such technologies.
"Police executives are saying, `Shouldn't we just buy new technology if
there's a chance it might help us?'" Fyfe said. "That's the post-9-11
Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske said he sees law enforcement
applications for DARPA's urban camera project "in limited scenarios." But
citywide surveillance would tax police manpower, Kerlikowske said. "Who's
going to validate and corroborate all those alerts?"
According to contracting documents reviewed by The Associated Press, DARPA
plans to award a three-year contract for up to $12 million by Sept. 1. In
the first phase, at least 30 cameras would help protect troops at a fixed
site. The project would use small $400 stick-on cameras, each linked to a
$1,000 personal computer.
In the second phase, at least 100 cameras would be installed in 12 hours to
support "military operations in an urban terrain."
The second-phase software should be able to analyze the video footage and
identify "what is normal (behavior), what is not" and discover "links
between places, subjects and times of activity," the contracting documents
The program "aspires to build the world's first multi-camera surveillance
system that uses automatic ... analysis of live video" to study vehicle
movement "and significant events across an extremely large area," the
Both configurations will be tested at Ft. Belvoir, Va., south of
Washington, then in a foreign city. Walker declined comment on whether
Kabul, Afghanistan, or Baghdad, Iraq, might be chosen but says the foreign
country's permission will be obtained.
DARPA outlined project goals March 27 for more than 100 executives of
potential contractors, including Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and the Johns
Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab.
DARPA told the contractors that 40 million cameras already are in use
around the world, with 300 million expected by 2005.
U.S. police use cameras to monitor bridges, tunnels, airports and border
crossings and regularly access security cameras in banks, stores and
garages for investigative leads. In the District of Columbia, police have
16 closed-circuit television cameras watching major roads and gathering places.
Great Britain has an estimated 2.5 million closed-circuit television
cameras, more than half operated by government agencies, and the average
Londoner is thought to be photographed 300 times a day.
But many of these cameras record over their videotape regularly. Officers
have to monitor the closed-circuit TV and struggle with boredom and loss of
By automating the monitoring and analysis, DARPA "is attempting to create
technology that does not exist today," Walker explained.
Though insisting CTS isn't intended for homeland security, DARPA outlined a
hypothetical scenario for contractors in March that showed the system could
aid police as well as the military. DARPA described a hypothetical
terrorist shooting at a bus stop and a hypothetical bombing at a disco one
month apart in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, a city with slightly more
residents than Miami.
CTS should be able to track the day's movements for every vehicle that
passed each scene in the hour before the attack, DARPA said. Even if there
were 2,000 such vehicles and none showed up twice, the software should
automatically compare their routes and find vehicles with common starting
and stopping points.
Joseph Onek of the Open Society Institute, a human rights group, said
current law that permits the use of cameras in public areas may have to be
revised to address the privacy implications of these new technologies.
"It's one thing to say that if someone is in the street he knows that at
any single moment someone can see him," Onek said. "It's another thing to
record a whole life so you can see anywhere someone has been in public for