Crowd Scanning

FRWant to get lost in the crowd? Good luck. The federal government is developing a surveillance system that uses computer software and video cameras to scan crowds and automatically detect people by their faces. The purported use, as always, is benign and is centered on the ability to identify terrorists on the watch list. Presumably, if the Boston Marathon bombers had been under suspicion and this technology had been used at the site of the marathon, the government might have been able to monitor their actions. That’s the premise. The reality, unfortunately, is different. Just as Aaron Alexis, a person with known mental illness and prior arrests for violence, was allowed to purchase automatic weapons and obtain a pass onto the Naval Yard grounds in D.C. prior to his mass murder rampage, and just as one of the Boston Bombers had been called to our attention by Russian security agents, even when we have this kind of advance information we don’t use it. How can we? Can you imagine how many people in this country could be “identified” as potential future nutcases that could go off the deep end? Every one of these guys is described after the fact by friends as “the last person you would expect to do this kind of thing”. We are caught between the ideals of personal and individual freedom, and protection from all threats. You can’t have both and the question will always be where to draw the balance.

The answer does not lie in being able to monitor all Americans, “just in case”. Even if it were possible to identify potential threats in this manner, is the benefit worth the cost? More Americans die falling from ladders every year than are killed by terrorists. Our country was founded (meaning, we killed our oppressors and threw them off forcefully) with the united purpose of establishing a nation based on the core principles of individual freedom, and that essential character has never changed. Why, then, would we give this up in order to gain modest-to-non-existent levels of additional security from sporadic threats?

This technology was originally developed in order to support the military in their detection of potential suicide bombers and other terrorists overseas at “outdoor polling places in Afghanistan and Iraq,” . But in 2010, the effort was transferred to the Department of Homeland Security to be developed for use instead by the police in the United States. The Constitution does not authorize a national police force or a domestic military. Yet this is exactly what the Department of Homeland Security is creating (if not deliberately, certainly by default) as it arms local police agencies with technologies that are ultimately going to be used primarily against law-abiding citizens in the hopes that a big enough net will drag in the bad guys with everyone else.

Read more about it here.

– RP