Those of you involved in technology have probably figured it out, but a lot of the fancy gizmos and technology you see on the various”tech oriented” TV shows…
Technology, and the use of technology has been a moral issue for inventors and technologists since the days of the development of the Atomic Bomb. Not that the inventors of a lot of this stuff are ethicists but – it is a conversation at least some of us have.
After 9-11 and Katrina, my company was developing technology which would be capable to restoring communications over a disaster area in a matter of hours. The concept was based on putting a new type of radio communications system which could reconfigure itself by software command in either a tethered to the ground, or a geo-stationary blimp. Now, I am sure everyone is familiar with the Zeppelins of the 1930’s and the Hindenburg.
One of the big Gub’ment agencies caught on to what we were doing, and approached us to help one of BIG Gub’ment contractors on building their “Eye in the Sky” project. The idea was to mount a very high resolution video camera in a geostationary blimp over New Orleans, and tie it to behavioral analysis software. “Behaviorial” software was just being developed at that point. What it does is identify possible criminal activity by the actions of the people the camera sees. The technical problem in this case being getting the video feed back down to the ground, and the equipment to make that happen not being too heavy to be lifted by the blimp. My partners and I figured out it was technically doable, but involved creating a bit of technology that didn’t exist yet.
First meeting, the Gub’ment guys stands up and explains what they want to do. Which was essentially put the entire city under surveillance and use the pattern recognition software to identify “bad guys” and people up to nefarious deeds. The problem being the system would spy on each and every citizen in the entire city constantly. The guy from the company developing the camera stands up and starts describing the new camera, which includes and ability to look through buildings (yes that exists).
I look at my partner, he looks at me…And I say I’m not doing this. This gives the government the ability to peer into anyone’s home, bedroom, or office without their permission, or even so much as a warrant based on criminal activity. This is unconstitutional.
We walked out and refused to do the work. It was the end of us ever doing work for these people…But that was fine.
Now I see in Baltimore some scumbag has reconstituted some of tat work, and come up with a “Poor man’s” version to spy and violate the constitutional rights of innocent citizens.
An experimental police surveillance program funded by Texas philanthropists John and Laura Arnold worries observers of private influence in the public sphere
Thousands of runners will sweat their way past the scenic highlights of central Baltimore in the city’s marathon on Saturday, but the action will not only be at ground level. An aircraft equipped with advanced cameras is set to circle high above their heads, as part of a secretive surveillance programme funded by Texan billionaires.
Last year, Radiolab, a public radio show, featured a company called Persistent Surveillance Systems, which specialises in wide-area eye-in-the-sky technology. It flies a small plane for hours above urban areas, taking thousands of photographs that are sent to analysts who then track movements at street level.
After the radio segment aired, the philanthropist John Arnold got in touch with the owner of Persistent, Ross McNutt. Arnold and his wife, Laura, were intrigued by the technology’s crime-fighting potential and agreed to fund a trial somewhere. With $360,000 from the Arnolds, McNutt struck a deal with Baltimore.
From January to August this year, Baltimore police said at a news conference last week, the plane flew over the city for 314 hours, taking more than a million images. The police added that the plane would operate as an anti-terrorism measure during Fleet Week, which started on Monday, and the marathon.
This spurt of transparency was more than a little tardy. Until Bloomberg Businessweek ran a story in August, virtually no one knew about the surveillance programme, not even the mayor. Yet the technology raises obvious civil liberties questions, as does the way the plan was funded: by unaccountable private citizens in Houston whose wealth silently enabled a blanket tracking tool in a large city with notoriously strained relations between police and residents.
“[John Arnold] called me, and he just heard it on the Radiolab piece and asked what he could do to help, and he thought we could run a test with the system and I said we would love to and we appreciate his help,” said McNutt. “They’re fantastic people, they really are, and they’re doing great things and trying to help out as much as they can.”
The Arnolds are not universally loved. Two years ago, a Bloomberg profile of John Arnold was headlined: Giving Back Has Made This 41-year-old Retired Billionaire Less Popular.
The Dallas-born Arnold was a millionaire Enron trader who became a billionaire hedge fund manager. He quit at 38, having amassed a reported $4bn fortune, and started the Laura and John Arnold Foundation with his wife, a former attorney. They have committed to giving the bulk of their wealth to philanthropic causes and have an appetite for forensic examination of complex and often divisive issues.
According to the Foundation, it has awarded more than $617m in grant money since 2011, in line with its aim of seeking “transformational change” through “strategic investments in criminal justice, education, evidence-based policy and innovation, public accountability, and research integrity”….
A sceptic might argue that society cannot understand something it does not know about. David Rocah, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Maryland, said his organisation was concerned by the nature of the surveillance and the opaque way it was adopted.
“What the secret funding from the Arnolds meant,” he said, “is that it didn’t even have to be disclosed to the city’s purchasing folks and the mayor didn’t know, the city council didn’t know … nobody knew.
“The fact is that surveillance technologies are acquired by police departments all over the country all the time with zero public input, even where the Arnolds aren’t secretly funding it. This case is just an extraordinary, an extreme, example of a larger problem.”
Most of the money was passed to Baltimore through the Police Foundation, a not-for-profit research body in Washington that previously worked with the Arnold Foundation on a study of eyewitness identification procedure. As soon as next week, the Police Foundation intends to release a report that will examine the potential value of McNutt’s surveillance technology.