When it comes to the business of keeping an eye on the general public, the U.S. government believes it should go big or go home, so it has decided to go big.
As reported by News.com.au of Australia, a small, private company has developed a surveillance system of Orwellian proportions that just put Big Brother on steroids.
About 18 miles above any chosen city, a balloon aircraft hovers out of sight of the tens of thousands of people below, circling continuously while surveying the metropolis below.
Every second, the aircraft takes a photo of the entire city and all things occurring within a 40-square-mile radius. The images are then beamed to a control center, where technicians create what is essentially akin to a Google map of everything that is occurring at the moment.
News.com.au further reported:
When a crime occurs, teams of analysts simply scroll back in time to the scene of the incident and identify those involved. From that point, they can follow the target by clicking forward through the images to the present moment and pinpoint their location.
Ostensibly, surveillance is about preventing and prosecuting crimes – and while it’s only been used in a handful of cities, Persistent Surveillance Systems (PSS) are designed to do just that.
The times it has been used on U.S. soil, the tool has allowed authorities to solve crimes in a matter of minutes.
Of course, the implications for privacy — or more accurately, the lack of privacy — are immense as the device can also be installed onboard planes.
News.com.au reported that the concept for the design was actually conceived over a couple of beers, according to PPS founder Ross McNutt, who drew up the initial plans on the back of a napkin.
“We developed the system quickly to get an initial capability [within] about 18 months. We have since spent the last eight years perfecting it, lowering the cost, and increasing the effectiveness,” he told News.com.au. He added that the concept was tailored for U.S. forces fighting in Iraq, which did not appear to be going well in 2004.
“The IEDs [improvised explosive device] were killing many of our troops and our commander asked that we see what we could do to help,” he said.
At the time, McNutt was teaching at the Air Force Institute of Technology. He and others shared a desire to assist U.S. forces who were then battling against insurgent tactics used by troops loyal to Saddam Hussein.
“We developed an idea that would allow us to track bombers back to the place they came from so we could then address the source of the bombs,” he said.
A marketing video of the device shows that users can actually track vehicles and travelers back to where they came from.
Ultimately, the technology proved exceptional in capturing or neutralizing those planting IEDs; since its initial development, the U.S. Air Force has spent some $1 billion to improve and enhance it.
While there are certainly privacy concerns, McNutt says that the economics of the system alone are enough to justify its use over American cities. News.com.au reported:
According to the National Institute of Justice, Dayton Ohio has 27,000 reported crimes per year, 70 to 80 per day and nearly 10,000 serious crimes, such as rape, murder and assault, which amount to a cost of $US3400 per person each year.
“PSS believes we will contribute to reducing the crime in Dayton by 20 per cent to 30 per cent,” McNutt said, adding that would amount to a yearly savings of between $96 million and $144 million.
Apparently, that is the price of the Fourth Amendment.
“We have developed a whole host of privacy policies and procedures that protect people privacies. In addition we have designed the system to be limited to one pixel per person, which only allows us to barely see a person and track them to a car,” McNutt insisted. “We only support reported crime investigation and ongoing criminal investigations.”
Millions of Americans simply won’t believe that, given the NSA’s recent abuses and the Obama administration’s desire to spy on all Americans, all the time.