Big Brother is watching you. Sadly, most people don’t realize how extensive the surveillance grid has now become. As you drive to work or to school, license plate readers are systematically tracking where you travel. In major cities, thousands of highly advanced security cameras (many equipped with facial recognition technology) are monitoring your every move. If authorities detect that you are doing something suspicious, they can quickly pull up your criminal, financial and medical records. Of course if they want to dig deeper, your phone and your computer are constantly producing a treasure trove of surveillance data. Nothing that you do on either one of them is ever private.
In the past, compiling all of that information would take a great deal of time. But now tech giants such as Microsoft, Motorola, Cisco and Palantir are selling “fusion systems” to governments all over the planet. These “fusion systems” can instantly integrate surveillance data from thousands of different sources, and this has totally transformed how law enforcement is conducted in many of our largest cities.
Arthur Holland Michel is a senior fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, and he was given a tour of a “fusion system” that is used by the city of Chicago called Citigraf…
He clicked “INVESTIGATE,” and Citigraf got to work on the reported assault. The software runs on what Genetec calls a “correlation engine,” a suite of algorithms that trawl through a city’s historical police records and live sensor feeds, looking for patterns and connections. Seconds later, a long list of possible leads appeared onscreen, including a lineup of individuals previously arrested in the neighborhood for violent crimes, the home addresses of parolees living nearby, a catalog of similar recent 911 calls, photographs and license plate numbers of vehicles that had been detected speeding away from the scene, and video feeds from any cameras that might have picked up evidence of the crime itself, including those mounted on passing buses and trains. More than enough information, in other words, for an officer to respond to that original 911 call with a nearly telepathic sense of what has just unfolded.
But these systems are not just used to track down criminals.
In fact, they can be used to investigate literally anyone.
On another occasion, Arthur Holland Michel got the opportunity to test out the “fusion system” that Microsoft had built for New York City…
The NYPD official showed me how he could pull up any city resident’s rap sheet, lists of their known associates, cases in which they were named as a victim of a crime or as a witness, and, if they had a car, a heatmap of where they tended to drive and a full history of their parking violations. Then he handed me the phone. Go ahead, he said; search a name.
A flurry of people came to mind: Friends. Lovers. Enemies. In the end, I chose the victim of a shooting I’d witnessed in Brooklyn a couple of years earlier. He popped right up, along with what felt like more personal information than I, or even perhaps a curious officer, had any right to know without a court order. Feeling a little dizzy, I gave the phone back.
If this is what is going on in major cities such as Chicago and New York, can you imagine the technology that the alphabet agencies of the federal government must now possess?
Of course this isn’t just happening in the United States.
On the other side of the Atlantic, a joint European surveillance project known as ROXANNE is causing a great deal of concern…
An acronym for Real time netwOrk, teXt, and speaker ANalytics for combating orgaNized crimE, it was announced in November the Republic’s involvement in the project currently being developed in Switzerland.
A biometrics based platform ostensibly to monitor and crack down on organised crime, an additional application of ROXANNE which its creators advertise freely is the ability to monitor those guilty of alleged hate speech and political extremism.
Strict new laws against “hate speech” and “political extremism” are being instituted all over Europe, and this new tool will help to track down “thought criminals”.