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GlobalSecurity.org In the News

The Associated Press August 01, 2003

Spy Project Driving Fear Of Surveillance

By Michael J. Sniffen

Police can envision limited domestic uses for an urban surveillance system the Pentagon is developing but doubt they could use the full system which is designed to track and analyze the movement of every vehicle in a city.

Dubbed "Combat Zones That See," the project is intended to help the U.S. military protect troops and fight in cities overseas.

Scientists and privacy experts say the unclassified technology also could easily be adapted to keep tabs on Americans. The project's centerpiece would be groundbreaking computer software capable of automatically identifying vehicles by size, colour, shape and licence plate, or drivers and passengers by face.

The proposed software also would provide instant alerts after detecting a vehicle with a licence plate on a watchlist, or search months of records to locate and compare vehicles spotted near terrorist attacks, according to interviews and contracting documents reviewed by The Associated Press.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which develops technologies for fighting 21st century wars, is overseeing the project.

Scientists and privacy experts -- who have seen face-recognition technology used at a Super Bowl and monitoring cameras in London -- are concerned about the potential impact of the emerging DARPA technologies if they are applied to civilians by commercial or government agencies outside the Pentagon.

"Government would have a reasonably good idea of where everyone is most of the time," said John Pike, a GlobalSecurity.org defense analyst.

DARPA spokeswoman Jan Walker dismisses those concerns. She said the Combat Zones That See (CTS) technology isn't intended for homeland security or law enforcement and couldn't be used for "other applications without extensive modifications."

But scientists envision non-military uses. "One can easily foresee pressure to adopt a similar approach to crime-ridden areas of American cities or to the Super Bowl or any site where crowds gather," said Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists.

James Fyfe, a deputy New York police commissioner, believes police will be ready customers.

"Police executives are saying, 'Shouldn't we just buy new technology if there's a chance it might help us?' " Fyfe said. "That's the post-9/11 mentality."

Copyright 2003, The Associated Press