Archive for the ‘surveillance’ Category

In 2012, a private company working with the LA County Sheriff’s Department flew a civilian plane rigged with multiple high-powered video cameras over the city of Compton, recording “video of everything that happened inside that 10-square-mile municipality,” all without telling residents, according to The Atlantic. Expanding on a previous piece by the Center for Investigative Reporting, The Atlantic says that the project was a test-run of sorts by the company, Persistent Surveillance Systems, eager to show off its tech to the country’s largest sheriff’s department. (Neither article says how long the plane was in the air or exactly how many times it flew and recorded, but the head of the company himself brags that “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.”)

They didn’t tell Compton because Compton might not have liked it.

Ohio-based PSS sells surveillance equipment (known as wide area surveillance) that uses cameras mounted on the underside of planes to record video, allowing police to pause, rewind, and zoom in on footage that’s been recorded in real-time, like a much creepier DVR. The Sheriffs were “persuaded” by Ross McNutt (the Air Force veteran who owns PSS) to let him fly a plane outfitted with cameras over Compton in response to a chain of horrible crimes terrorizing the city’s residents: a string of necklace-jackings. The plan was to have McNutt’s aircraft hover over areas where reported thefts had taken place, and to look for anything that might help investigators.

“Our whole system costs less than the price of a single police helicopter and costs less for an hour to operate than a police helicopter. But at the same time, it watches 10,000 times the area that a police helicopter could watch,” McNutt told CIR. While the tech sounds futuristic (in a dystopian way), it is thankfully still limited: the cameras are not powerful enough yet to recognize faces. (Nowhere near as fancy/invasive as the license-plate recognition software that the LAPD uses.) McNutt himself predicts that technology will advance within the next few years, so don’t even sweat it.

At no point was any of this revealed to the residents of Compton because the cops knew they wouldn’t much care for having their entire city recorded. “A lot of people do have a problem with the eye in the sky, the Big Brother, so in order to mitigate any of those kinds of complaints, we basically kept it pretty hush-hush,” says LA County Sheriff Sgt. Doug Iketani, the project’s supervisor.

http://la.curbed.com/archives/2014/04/la_sheriff_secretly_recorded_all_of_compton_from_above.php

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

1984

With news of government spying and surveillance dominating the headlines, sales of Orwell’s classic novel have shot up more than 3,000 percent on Amazon.com. The book currently comes in at No. 5 on the site’s Movers and Shakers list of the biggest sales gainers of the day, and had been as high as No. 4 earlier in the day. Sales of the book began to jump on Monday, when it rose to No. 19.

In “1984,” English author Orwell presents a dystopian future with a totalitarian, tyrannical government where “Big Brother is watching you.”

Separately, a dual edition of “1984” and Orwell’s other classic, “Animal Farm,” comes in at No. 11 on Amazon’s list.

Orwell died in 1950, just a year after “1984” was published.

http://news.msn.com/pop-culture/sales-of-george-orwells-1984-surge-on-amazon

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

drone

Germany’s national railway company, Deutsche Bahn, plans to test small drones to try to reduce the amount of graffiti being sprayed on its property. The idea is to use airborne infra-red cameras to collect evidence, which could then be used to prosecute vandals who deface property at night.

A company spokesman said drones would be tested at rail depots soon. But it is not yet clear how Germany’s strict anti-surveillance laws might affect their use.

Graffiti is reported to cost Deutsche Bahn about 7.6m euros (£6.5m; $10m) a year. German media report that each drone will cost about 60,000 euros and fly almost silently, up to 150m (495ft) above ground. The BBC’s Stephen Evans in Berlin says using cameras to film people surreptitiously is a sensitive issue in Germany, where privacy is very highly valued.

When Google sent its cameras through the country three years ago to build up its “Street View” of 20 cities, many people objected to their houses appearing online. Even Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said: “I will do all I can to prevent it”.

Such was the opposition that Google was compelled to give people an opt-out. If householders indicated that they did not want their homes shown online, then the fronts of the buildings would be blurred. More than 200,000 householders said that they did want their homes blanked out on Street View.

A Deutsche Bahn spokesman told the BBC that its drones would be used in big depots where vandals enter at night and spray-paint carriages. The drones would have infra-red sensors sophisticated enough for people to be identified, providing key evidence for prosecutions.

But it seems the cameras would be tightly focused within Deutsche Bahn’s own property – people or property outside the depots would not be filmed, so easing any privacy concerns.

The drone issue is also sensitive in Germany because earlier this month the defence ministry halted an expensive project to develop Germany’s own surveillance drone, called Euro Hawk. The huge unmanned aircraft would be used abroad but would need to be able to fly in German airspace, if only to take off and land on their way to and from the land to be watched, our correspondent reports.

But it became clear that the air traffic authorities were not going to grant that permission. The reasoning was that Germany’s military drones would be unable to avoid collisions with other, civilian aircraft.

Small drones on private land do not need permission from air traffic controllers – big drones do.

So Germany seems to be entering a legal grey area – it is not clear when the flight of a drone may become so extensive that the wider authorities need to intervene, Stephen Evans reports.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-22678580

drone-proof-burqa
As debate over the use of unmanned aerial vehicles in the U.S. rages on, a fashion designer introduces clothing that blocks drone-mounted infrared cameras.

As the U.S. government draws up plans to use surveillance drones in domestic airspace, opposition to what many consider an unwarranted and significant invasion of privacy is mounting across the country, from rural Virginia to techopolis Seattle. Although officials debate anti-drone legislation at federal, state and local levels, one man is fighting back with high-tech apparel.

A New York City privacy advocate-turned-urban-guerilla fashion designer is selling garments designed to make their wearers invisible to infrared surveillance cameras, particularly those on drones. And although Adam Harvey admits that his three-item Stealth Wear line of scarves and capes is more of a political statement than a money-making venture, the science behind the fashion is quite sound.

“Fighting drones is not my full-time job, but it could be,” says Harvey, an instructor of physical computing at Manhattan’s School of Visual Arts and the creator of the CV Dazzle project, which seeks to develop makeup and hairstyles that camouflage people from face-recognition cameras and software.

Harvey’s newest medium, metalized fabric, has been around for more than 20 years. It holds in body heat that would burn bright for infrared cameras—a characteristic that could prove attractive to those who do not want unmanned aerial vehicles spying on them.

Metalized fabric
Metal is very good at absorbing and scattering infrared light, says Cheng Sun, a Northwestern University assistant professor of mechanical engineering. In that sense there is nothing exotic in how metalized fabric works—it “would strongly attenuate the [infrared] light,” he says. The metal would dissipate heat to surroundings as well, making the wearer harder to pinpoint.

To date, the fabric has primarily been used in tape and gaskets to protect electronics and communications equipment from static electricity and electromagnetic interference, according to Larry Creasy, director of technology for metalized fabric-maker Laird Technologies, based in Saint Louis.

Here’s how metalizing works, at least at Laird: Woven fabric, commonly nylon or polyester, is coated with a special catalyst—a precious metal Creasy declined to specify—that helps copper bind to the fiber. Once dry, the fabric is submerged in a copper sulfate–plating bath and dried. A nickel sulfamate bath follows to help the finished fabric withstand the elements and abrasions. The result is a flexible, breathable fabric that can be cut with ordinary tools but that protects against electromagnetic interference and masks infrared radiation, Creasy says. The process adds weight to the original fabric. An untreated square yard of nylon weighs about 42.5 grams. Treated, the same patch weighs more than 70 grams.

The fashion
Harvey’s fabric is coated with copper, nickel and silver, a combination that gives his scarves, head-and-shoulders cloak and thigh-length “burqa” a silvery and “luxurious” feel. The material blocks cell signals, as well, adding an element of risk to tweeting, texting and other mobile activities, as the wearer must break cover to communicate.

Stealth Wear is sold only via a U.K. Web site. The burqa goes for about $2,300, the “hoodie” is $481 and the scarf is $565—luxury items, but so, too, is privacy today, Harvey says.

The impetus
The high cost and limited availability are significant drawbacks—Harvey says he’s only sold one Stealth Wear item online, a scarf. But the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) predicts 10,000 commercial drones will ply domestic airspace by 2017—almost twice the that of the U.S. Air Force’s current fleet of unmanned aircraft. The number of drones flying in the U.S. today is hard to pin down because not every company and agency that gets FAA approval to fly a drone actually puts one in the air. In fact, 1,428 private-sector and government requests have been approved since 2007, according to the FAA. A Los Angeles Times report states that 327 of those permits are still active. Meanwhile, President Obama signed a law in February 2012 that gives the FAA until September 2015 to draw up rules that dictate how law enforcement, the military and other entities may use drones in U.S. airspace.

As of October 2012, 81 law agencies, universities, an Indian tribal agency and other entities had applied to the FAA to fly drones, according to documents released by the FAA to the Electronic Freedom Frontier following a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. Government entities as diverse as the U.S. Department of State and Otter Tail County, Minn., are among them.

Discomfort rising
Although Harvey’s anti-drone fashions are not currently flying off the shelves, he could soon find himself leading a seller’s market if recent events are any metric:

•The Charlottesville, Va., city council has passed a watered-down ordinance that asks the federal and commonwealth governments not to use drone-derived information in court. Proponents had sought to make the city drone-free (pdf).

•Virginia, Minnesota, Oregon, Montana, Arizona (pdf) and Idaho legislators are trying to at least regulate or even prohibit, drones in their skies.

•Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn returned the city’s two surveillance drones after a hostile public reception.

•A bipartisan pair of U.S. Representatives has introduced legislation to limit information-gathering by government-operated drones as well as prohibit weapons on law-enforcement and privately owned unmanned aerial vehicles.

Drone advocates defend the use of the technology as a surveillance tool. “We clearly need to do a better job of educating people about the domestic use of drones,” says Ben Gielow, government relations manager for the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. Gielow says U.S. voters must decide the acceptability of data collection from all sources, adding, “Ultimately, an unmanned aircraft is no different than gathering data from the GPS on your phone or from satellites.”

GPS does not use infrared cameras, however, and satellites are not at the center the current privacy debate brewing in Washington—factors that could make Harvey’s designs all the more fashionable.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=drone-proof-anti-infrared-apparel&page=2