Friday, January 6, 2017

Baltimore Is Global Testbed For Total Surveillance

More than a thousand cameras on stoplights, buildings and poles surveil Baltimore passersby throughout the city streets. Since 2005, police have paired privately owned cameras with city ones, weaving together a vast surveillance net in which little remains private.

But its surveillance goes well beyond conventional measures. Baltimore uses technology known as “Stingrays” – devices that impersonate cellphone towers to capture and track calls – license-plate readers, and facial recognition to monitor citizens. In August, three privacy groups filed a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) complaint alleging the city’s above-average use of Stingrays disproportionately affected minority communities and disrupted cell service.

While conventional surveillance tools such as wiretapping and cameras have established usage guidelines, these new technologies exist in a sort of “Wild West,” largely unhindered by regulations and oversight.

McNutt says his technology, which is bound by a strict internal privacy policy even as many of his clients don’t have one, was adapted from a tool he built for the US Army. In 2006, at the peak of the Iraq war, the Pentagon asked McNutt to help cut down deadly roadside bombs. His solution? Angel Fire, a wide-area aerial surveillance system that could monitor the roads in real-time.

“It invariably happens that technology developed for military applications gradually percolates out to domestic policing,” says Julian Sanchez, a senior privacy fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute. “We talk about police militarization usually thinking about … SWAT-style gear, but there’s a parallel phenomenon on the surveillance side.”

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