High Technology: Friend or Foe – Security & Surveillance Systems


In a few years the common question at a party will be, "Have you been chipped?" In the future, if your credit or debit card is stolen, you may not be calling your bank, but a surgeon.

A tiny chip transmitted with personal information is injected in the skin and from a special handheld scanner an individual’s data in the chip can be accessed. Biometrics, used in scanning the unique features of a human body to identify it will soon be used throughout Great Britain in identity cards. Iris scanning, highlighted in the movie Minority Report, already used at Amsterdam’s Schipol airport, has replaced fingerprint recognition and proved harder to defeat.

Daily, high-tech computers are being invented – from face recognition to implantable microchips, iris scanning and "brain wave fingerprinting." In this, a special three-part series, the newest breakthroughs in technology will be reviewed.

Airport Security Systems

A high-tech airport security system that’s currently available, but still in its infancy, is facial scanning, where computers match up a face caught on camera with thousands of suspects in a criminal data bank. Skin color, beards and make-up won’t fool the database, which measures 1,700 points on a face before scanning up to 100,000 images and finding a match, all in one second. The technology has already been used in the Dubai International Airport.

Thermal imaging systems can do more than detect biochemical weapons. Within two weeks of the SARS outbreak that swept through Hong Kong, The U.K. firm Land Instruments sold 50 of its systems to airports in Asia and the Middle East to scan passengers and identify any with the slightest hint of a fever. The cameras are still reported to be in use in case of an outbreak. Although defended as a way to pinpoint possible terrorists who might be sweating before boarding, the concern is what passenger hasn’t found herself late on occasion having to sprint to the terminal gate. If this were the case, most passengers at one time or another would be falsely targeted.

Currently, airport security systems can also see through clothes for weapons, sniff a person for explosives and determine what’s in a bottle without opening it. At the Orlando International Airport, and some other airports throughout the country, such systems are already in place.

Just as luggage is X-rayed to see what’s inside, so are passengers. Millimeter-wave scanners, which produce an image similar to X-ray, look through clothes to detect concealed weapons and produce a moving 360 degree image.

One system, the Rapiscan Secure 1000, uses low-energy X-rays to search a person through clothing and the outline of a body is clearly visible. To minimize privacy concerns, security officials have said the scanner would be only used when a passenger shows an "anomaly" and that security scanner technicians would be the same sex as the person being searched.

Another system, the Barringer Ionscan 400B, a little larger than a phone booth, blows quick bursts of air at a person to detect traces of 40 types of explosives. Another system, the Ionscan, also can be quickly adjusted to test for 60 types of drug residues, all of this added to the arsenal to "protect us" and to counteract the war on terrorism.

Anti-terrorist surveillance

The Pentagon is developing a radar-based device that can identify people by the way they walk, for use in a new antiterrorist surveillance system based on the theory that an individual’s walk is as unique as their signature. The Pentagon has financed a research project at the Georgia Institute of Technology that has been 80 to 95 percent successful in identifying people.

If the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), orders a prototype, the individual "gait signatures" of people could become part of the data to be linked together in a vast surveillance system the Pentagon agency calls Total Information Awareness. DARPA’s impact and interest should not be ignored, as DARPA is the federal agency that helped develop the Internet as a research tool for universities and government contractors.

DARPA’s goal is to draw conclusions and predictions about terrorists from databases that record transactions such as passport applications, visas, work permits, driver’s licenses, car rentals, airline ticket purchases, arrests or reports of suspicious activities.

Other databases DARPA wants to access include financial, education, medical and housing records, and biometric identification databases based on fingerprints, irises, facial shapes and gait.

DARPA’s advised contractors that the amount of data that will need to be stored and accessed will be unparalleled to any existing database and measured in petabytes. One petabyte is roughly equal to 50 times the Library of Congress, which holds more than 18 million books.

Although Congress barred its use against American citizens without further congressional review, government documents reviewed by The Associated Press showed that scores of major defense contractors and prominent universities applied for the first research contracts to design and build the surveillance and analysis system.

The fight against international crime and terrorism is ratcheting up the use of technology and has many worried at what cost to our individual freedoms.

The fact is that there are no longer any technical barriers to the Big Brother regime portrayed by George Orwell in his novel 1984.

Coming in Parts 2 and 3: National ID cards, implantable human chips, GPS systems, and bar-coding individuals.

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Brenda Miller is a forecaster and whole-systems design strategist. As a Certified Master Professional Futurist, and Certified Trainer in Emotional Intelligence, she specializes and helps people, businesses, and organizations see, understand, and respond to change so they can creatively design a brighter future. Ms. Miller is President and Chief Global Strategist of New Crotona, a Futures-based consultancy providing services in futures planning, advertising, marketing, business strategies, team building, leadership coaching, and Internet business solutions and website development. Ms. Miller is President of the Minnesota Futurists Association and a Professional Member of the World Futurists. For more information, contact her at (651) 731-4037 or e-mail [email protected], and visit www.NewCrotona.com. Copyright © 2005 Brenda Miller. All rights reserved.


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