Surveillance technology has invariably been regarded with suspicion by the general public. It triggers fears of privacy invasion as well as evoking horrific science-fiction-type images of an all-seeing Big Brother who monitors their every move. Yet, the rising fears of terrorism and security in the light of the attacks launched against Europe by suicide gunmen and bombers have caused a slight, but significant change, in public perception, especially among those who have experienced the violence firsthand.
An article on the RT TV website points to one provocation that substantiates this fear. Its an incident involving a trucker’s intentional crash into a Berlin public market this past Christmas that killed 12 people. As discussed in the report, about 60 percent of Germans polled in a survey said they were in favor of establishing video surveillance in places where many people frequent.
Meanwhile, The Guardian notes that the Swiss electorate supported a legislative motion that would enhance the country’s surveillance system; those who voted in favor clarified that Switzerland’s technologies lagged behind those of their counterparts in other developed countries. The increased surveillance would also be implemented to look only for convicted terrorists on a watch list, and even then it would not happen on a regular basis.
Americans, meanwhile, are swinging from the other end of the pendulum. According to NBC News, the majority are rethinking the limits of the Patriot Act that had been passed as an aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. The original scope of the law that allowed surveillance was very broad in the first few years. Recently, Section 215 had come under sharp scrutiny for empowering the government to collect books, records, documents and other “tangible things” in order to fight terrorism.
Meanwhile, more sober voices point out that any use of the surveillance methods in the Patriot Act still have to respect civil rights and go through legal processes; for example, wiretapping has to get a judge’s court order before police or the FBI can implement it.
Essentially, surveillance as a deterrent against violent acts will always be balanced with the protection of the citizen’s civil rights. The sound of opposing voices can be louder if a new technology is introduced. Take a recent case where a more advanced kind of biometrics was used to track down a suspect who had set off a bomb in Chelsea, New York, on September 17, 2016, that injured 29 people.
One security professional with biometrics experience attributed the investigation’s success to the technology, specifically fingerprints and facial recognition. Its capability to cross-reference and match the fingerprints found on the bomb, the images from the neighborhood video surveillance and the FBI’s huge database of profiles made it possible to quickly identify the assailant.
The International Biometrics Industry Association supported the positive word of mouth that the technology generated by citing eleven surveys showing that the American public did not find biometrics intrusive, provided it fulfilled two conditions. First, its use had to be done without undue inconvenience; and second, it was a one-time implementation.
On the other hand, critics like The Washington Spectator, which reported the related stories, said the statements made by the Association could not be accepted unquestioningly. As a manufacturer of the technology, its perspective cannot be regarded as unbiased.
Given these two opposing poles—privacy protection and accurate detection of threats through surveillance—the question then becomes, are currently existing technologies available that can balance both?
Two new products being introduced to the market might show promise. As reported by Marketplace®, the first is Knightscope’s smart, oblong-shaped, mobile robot that helps mall security patrol the grounds. Currently, no information is available that indicates whether the Knightscope’s information-gathering capabilities can intrude on human privacy.
But its Humpty-Dumpty exterior just might lower people’s initial reservation against it. Its essentially the Star Wars™ C-3PO in one walking, elongated form harmlessly and quietly gliding across any given area likely with its human police partner beside it. Yet, underneath that friendly exterior are state-of-the-art sensors that can monitor heat signatures, spot erratic behavior and read 100 license places in 60 seconds.
The second, yet privacy-respecting surveillance device, is a weapons detection system using cognitive radar technology that is being commercialized by Patriot One Technologies Inc. (OTCMKTS: PTOTF, TSX.V: PAT, FRA: 0PL) . The Patriot One NForce CMR1000, can spot concealed weapons on individuals, in baggage and anywhere a person might try to conceal a weapon or lethal implement.
The NForce CMR1000 could prove to be an effective disruption against terrorists, shooters and bombers who had already planned and are about to carry out their next move. It does this regardless of whether the individual with the concealed weapon is standing, walking or running.
Once the signature pattern of the weapon has been determined using its advanced software algorithms, security is alerted to a possible threat. With this advance notice, authorities can move into potentially defuse the risk before it can develop.
An American public that insists on protection without giving up its privacy rights should welcome Patriot One’s security capabilities: Its focus is on weapons signatures carried by hostile actors. It neither gathers information about civilians or other parties not relevant to its monitoring nor captures images, thereby averting any invasion of privacy.
This unique characteristic is one that other technologies might do well to follow. The government’s mandate to protect its people by using surveillance technology must always be balanced by its other responsibility to respect their civil rights. And until the right balance is found and maintained, the innovation for surveillance technologies continues.
In the meantime, this is a system capable of learning, adapting and ensuring detection of concealed weapons, and this is where the true threat must be identified.
Written by Anna Reyes