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Homeland Security's Tech Wonders 138

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the segways-and-calculator-watches dept.
Lucas123 writes "The multi-billion dollar budget of the Department of Homeland Security has spawned a myriad of new, whiz-bang technology that includes things like keychain-size, remote-controlled aerial vehicles designed to collect and transmit data for military and homeland security uses. It also includes infrared cameras that capture license plate images to match them in milliseconds to police records. "Seventy percent of all criminal activity can be tied to a vehicle," says Mark Windover, president of Remington ELSAG Law Enforcement Systems, which is marketing its product to 250 U.S. police agencies."
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Homeland Security's Tech Wonders

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 23, 2007 @12:51PM (#20720039)
    Now we will see crime drop just like it did in the UK when they installed their cameras!
    • Upgrading the cameras with microphones and sound dropped crime even further. When is Apple releasing the teleview screens? http://www.macobserver.com/article/2006/04/27.13.shtml [macobserver.com]
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      You are joking aren't you, security cameras have this week been proved ineffective in solving and preventing crime!

      http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/news/index.cfm?newsid=10804 [pcadvisor.co.uk]

      i know in my home town that police men on the beat has been completely stopped since the introduction of the blanket cctv coverage in my town but on Friday and Saturday nights shop windows in our high street get smashed and parked cars vandalised, and the drunken fights are now not stopped as no police attend, so who exactly is watching
      • "You are joking aren't you"

        Yes. He was.
      • by symes (835608)

        You are joking aren't you, security cameras have this week been proved ineffective in solving and preventing crime!

        With the greatest of respect, this study 1. does not "proove" anything - if you wanted to test the relationship between crimw clear-up rate and cctv then this is not the way you would do it, 2. studies in the beavhoural sciences typical 'falsify' 3. that study did not say anything about prevention. There's reference to a study completed in 2005 but this has been the topic of some contention in the world of criminology - some studies show one thing, another something completely different.

        CCTV in the UK is

        • by rtb61 (674572)
          Money spent is what this is all about. Just more money to be spent upon a department that seems to be nothing but a fiscal vacuum that produces no results. The only real definitive action of the Department of Homeland Security is the demonstration of how 'NOT' to privatise and run a major disaster situation, 'Browny, you're doing a heck of a job'.

          So all it seems to be doing is to find new and inventive ways of feeding the US public's tax dollars into the bloated profits of politically favoured corporation

    • by Maelwryth (982896)
      "Homeland Security's Tech Wonders"

      Not if they only have one Tech. At first glimpse, I wondered what exactly the Tech was wondering. Now, I wonder if the title wouldn't have been better as H.S.T.W..
    • by mpe (36238)
      Now we will see crime drop just like it did in the UK when they installed their cameras!

      Some of these things may actually cause a rise in crime. Since they are at least as useful to criminals as they are to law enforcement.
  • not wrong (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    "Seventy percent of all criminal activity can be tied to a vehicle,"

    The occupant of Air force one ?
    • by ScrewMaster (602015) on Sunday September 23, 2007 @01:06PM (#20720139)
      The occupant of Air force one ?

      Well, and now we know why he believes he's above the law.
      • by Thuktun (221615)

        The occupant of Air force one ?

        Well, and now we know why he believes he's above the law.
        I'm thinking it's more like Judge Dredd:

        "I am the decider, I mean the...um...can't get fooled again."
        • Nobody in this country seems to realize that the "decider" is supposed to be the legislature and the president is the "doer" of the will of the legislature (they call it the "executive branch" for a reason...). "Things would be a lot easier if this was a dictatorship," he said...

          So if being an executor = "decider", then I really hope someone rich names me as the executor of their will:

          "To my son, Bob," ...*erasure onomatopoeia*...*scribble scribble*... "To djasbestos, I leave my entire estate."

          That'l
  • by mosel-saar-ruwer (732341) on Sunday September 23, 2007 @12:55PM (#20720059)

    It also includes infrared cameras that capture license plate images to match them in milliseconds to police records.

    The CAPTCHA's are getting so damned difficult to decipher that I can hardly even sign up for anonymous email accounts or download pr0n anymore.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Reziac (43301) *
      [drives through large mud puddle, neglects to wash truck]

      There. All captcha'd.

      • by jimicus (737525)
        No problem. Make it illegal to have dirty license plates - as soon as the system detects a license plate it can't read, an officer is dispatched to stop the vehicle.
        • by c_forq (924234)
          I am pretty sure this is the case in every state. If it is too dirty to read it falls under obstruction (same charge as if you covered it, painted it, or hid it).
          • by Chmcginn (201645) *
            Yet there's still hordes of people who drive around with those smoked plastic covers over their license plates.
        • by Reziac (43301) *
          Likely how it would work, yeah... all they'd have to do is attach a fine with points, and make it part of the unspoken ticket quota system...

          But it'd be real hard to enforce in a rural state where everyone has dusty/muddy cars almost all the time, or in winter when you get snow splatter freezing on the lower half of the car, and can't drive two blocks without getting resplattered.

          Another perverse thought: hairspray. Won't obscure it, but reduces contrast dramatically.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Technician (215283)
        Even simpler. Make a long bumper sticker that runs the entire length of the bumper right up to both sides of the plate. Fill it with random text and numbers the same size as the text using a carbon base ink on the sticker. Cover it with black window tint film. You now have a nice black bumper. The auto IR camera sees an extreme plate as it makes the window film transparant.
    • by PopeRatzo (965947) *
      If they're gonna captcha something, how about if they make it Osama Bin Laden. I'm not sure how much terrorism is going to be stopped by them being able to read my license plate number and match it to some database somewhere. They might find out I owe some parking tickets, though.

      But then, I doubt if any of this is about terrorism at all. I'm a lot more scared by a corporate-owned government using high technology to watch and control our behavior than I am of fundamentalist Muslims blowing me up. And I
    • So, is there some sort of plastic that blocks infrared but transmits visible light available?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 23, 2007 @12:58PM (#20720083)
    How is stuff like correlating license plates to crime, or flying small recon drones around, helping catch terrorists? According to the Director of National Intelligence, Michael McConnell, the best thing Washington could have done to prevent the terrorist attacks in new york was to have listened to FBI agents when they repeatedly warned that Zacarias Moussaoui was acting suspiciously, and repeatedly requested search warrants (http://abcnews.go.com/TheLaw/Story?id=3621517&page=1 .) Homeland security should be doing research about how to prevent bureaucratic incompetance.
    • Probably that means they should be spying upon themselves more. That way, if an agent figures out something useful maybe someone in another agency will learn about it and be able to make use of it. At least they won't need to worry about lack of inter-agency cooperation and all that.
    • Homeland security should be doing research about how to prevent bureaucratic incompetance.

      I like this sentence. It sends me into a trance every time I read it. I think it is because I imagine the DHS trying to perform this research and ironically getting nowhere. Then they try to research why their previous research got nowhere. When that gets nowhere they decide to research why the research of why their previous research got nowhere got nowhere and so on.
    • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Sunday September 23, 2007 @01:18PM (#20720263)
      Pop quiz, in the USofA are there:
      #1. More terrorists?

      #2. More crooked cops?

      Now, which of these is this new surveillance technology supposed to protect you from and which ones will have it?

      http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/conductunbecoming/ [nwsource.com]
      • by nuintari (47926)

        Pop quiz, in the USofA are there:
        #1. More terrorists?

        #2. More crooked cops?
        #3. More people in a position of power who think they are above some laws because they know best.
      • by JasonTik (872158)
        But! But! Think of the children!
      • by Unipuma (532655)
        Ah, but you seem to forget that in the eyes of the current administration, every consumer^H^H^H^H^H^H civilian is a potential terrorist, as soon as s/he starts asking difficult questions about said administration.
      • by Culture20 (968837)

        Pop quiz, in the USofA are there:
        #1. More terrorists?
        #2. More crooked cops?
        Now, which of these is this new surveillance technology supposed to protect you from and which ones will have it?


        False dichotomy.
        #1. More crooked cops?
        #2. More good cops?

        Can this surveillance tech provide more of an advantage to the crooked cops to do bad things, or to the good cops to catch the crooked cops doing bad things?
    • Don't worry. With the increased number of political appointments instead of by merit we've got the bureaucratic incompetance situation at an entirely new level. Soon we'll have world's best practice in bureaucratic incompetance instead of being left behind in this area by the top performers in the third world. Forget study and hard work - join the party comrade!
  • by Nomen Publicus (1150725) on Sunday September 23, 2007 @12:59PM (#20720087)
    But where does one direct all this "wonderful" technology? There is a myth that seems to infest these new fangled security organisations, that if only they can gather sufficient data they will be able to identify and prevent bad things happening. They cannot, but are willing to spend huge amounts of money in the attempt.
    • Look up "incest". (Score:5, Interesting)

      by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Sunday September 23, 2007 @01:21PM (#20720295)

      There is a myth that seems to infest these new fangled security organisations, that if only they can gather sufficient data they will be able to identify and prevent bad things happening. They cannot, but are willing to spend huge amounts of money in the attempt.

      The companies making the products often hire politicians who voted to purchase those products to fight [crime|terrorism|kiddie_porn].

      It's all an incestuous cycle.
  • by drseuk (824707) on Sunday September 23, 2007 @01:01PM (#20720113)

    "Seventy percent of all criminal activity can be tied to a vehicle,"
    As vee say in the Netherlands, "Where's my bike?"
    • by elwinc (663074)
      This is indeed a useful statistic:

      "Seventy percent of all criminal activity can be tied to a vehicle," says Mark Windover, president of Remington ELSAG Law Enforcement Systems, which is marketing its product to 250 U.S. police agencies.


      Funny, Remington ELSAG didn't offer statistics on what percent of crimes can be tied to a gun...
    • by superskippy (772852) on Sunday September 23, 2007 @03:10PM (#20721127)
      It's America. 70% of all American life can be tied to a vehicle. It's practically illegal to go anywhere without driving....
      • You're not kidding - I was once stopped by the police as I attempted to 'walk' out of a city centre - it turned out to virtauly impossible do it legally and on foot....the cops calmed down when I explained that, as a European, I was used to walking short distances in town.

        Their advice? Call a cab...
    • by vegiVamp (518171)
      Stolen, of course :-)
  • by mister_woods (949290) on Sunday September 23, 2007 @01:08PM (#20720159) Homepage
    It looks like the same track is being followed as in the United Kingdom, where we host the world's largest collection of CCTV cameras, not to mention cameras to catch speeding motorists, read registration plates, etc. Whilst it may give a nice warm glow of reassurance to those who believe the propaganda, does all this gadgetry do anything to reduce the amount of crime as opposed to the fear thereof? Not really: CCTV cameras, for example, have blind spots in their coverage. Technology is being used as a fig-leaf to cover the fact that the powers that be cannot or will not use the presence of humans patrolling in uniforms as a means of catching or deterring ne'er do wells. Technological fixes seem to be preferred too since they do not require wages, meal breaks, holidays or other such luxuries which drain the public purse.
    • Well, how would you feel about a mobile police AI that could do all of that without the wages, meal breaks or holidays? They had one in a movie once. It was called "ED-209". Didn't work very well as I recall.
    • by vertinox (846076)
      Technology is being used as a fig-leaf to cover the fact that the powers that be cannot or will not use the presence of humans patrolling in uniforms as a means of catching or deterring ne'er do wells.

      I believe Anthony Burgess pointed this out well in Clockwork Orange. You can use technology to make a man into an upright citizen, but it does not make him an upright citizen. It more or less destroys the nature of man.
    • The other problem with CCTV is that it has spawned a new, youthful, generation who almost permanently wear hooded jackets and tops when outside (also known as "hoodies"). Children instinctively know they can avoid repercussions and intimidating behaviour as they hide their faces.

      Combine that with Police so weighed down by red tape and documentation that crime actually increases, not decreases.

      At the end of the day criminals are like bacteria, they adapt. When penicillin was first introduced it had a powerfu
    • The problem is using technology to replace people instead of augmenting their skills and accepting the inferior results since they have a lower cost.

      The PHB's of the world know that video surveillance is not as effective as a person who is interested in their work and has proper training. Surveillance gives "nearly" (80%ish) the same results for far less cost and risk than a person.They just plain do not understand that technology is best used when helping people in a task, not removing the person from th

    • by Ragein (901507)
      We all know what happens when we replace cameras with people we get useless puppets like these PCSO'S http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/09/22/ndrown122.xml/ [telegraph.co.uk]
  • hmmmm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by phoenixwade (997892) on Sunday September 23, 2007 @01:12PM (#20720203)
    Seems to me that it isn't the huge budget of the department of homeland security that's pushing these innovations, it's DARPA, the same group that has been pushing everything from AI (with cool desert races) to the internet.....

    • Re:hmmmm (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ScrewMaster (602015) on Sunday September 23, 2007 @01:20PM (#20720281)
      Maybe, but that's what we pay DARPA to do, when you get right down to it.

      People come up with nifty toys all the time. It's part of living in a high-tech society. The problem comes in when law-enforcement substitutes ineffective technological measures for quality police work.
    • by foobsr (693224)
      with cool desert races

      Meanwhile, they have moved to an urban [darpa.mil] environment, probably in order to in the future avoid getting in black...err...hot water.

      CC.
  • From TFA:

    "We can read fingerprints from about five meters .... all 10 prints," said Bruce Walker, vice president of homeland security at Northrop Grumman Corp. "We can also do an iris scan at the same distance."
    Might be inflated, but still!
    • That is the most worrisome part of the article. As we are today, unless people know you there is some anonymity when you are in a public place. If Walker's claim is true the only way not to be identified would be with polarized lenses and gloves. This alone would flag you though, sort of like encrypting files may do today.

  • 007 (Score:1, Redundant)


    And yet, in spite of all of this "whiz-bang" 007 technology, I feel no safer. I wish that they had taken that multi-billion dollar budget and done something useful, productive, and boring with it.

    It makes me wonder whose interests they're serving.
    • Well, if current trends in surveillance and invasive micro-management of society continue, at some point an enemy state wouldn't need to go to war to take us over. They'd just replace a few key button pushers and we'd be pwned.
  • by kilodelta (843627) on Sunday September 23, 2007 @01:36PM (#20720405) Homepage
    Do you want to know what it is being used for? I'll tell you, revenue generation. The city of Providnce, RI recently changes the rules regarding parking tickets. It used to be that if you had five or more you might find your car booted. Now it's two tickets and it's not the police doing the booting, but a private company.

    I've seen the vehicle, it's a mini-van with cameras mounted at the top of both A pillars and pointing outward and a little above curb level. When they spot a vehicle the put on a boot with a keypad. To get the boot off you have to call the 800 number, pay on average $350 then remove the boot and return it to the police department.

    The other little thing that went into effect were tons of new parking meters. The one thing right about that is the kiosk system, no individual meters. It prints a ticket that you place in your car. And it takes credit cards. The kiosk is also run via solar power and uses a MESH network connection.

    So not all those technologies are used to spy per se, but as revenue generation tools.
    • by Holi (250190)
      all that and yet still no overnight parking. So glad I have a driveway.
    • by b0s0z0ku (752509)
      To get the boot off you have to call the 800 number, pay on average $350 then remove the boot and return it to the police department.

      Might be cheaper to cut off the boot with an oxy-acet, and just eat the cost of one new wheel. "What boot?"

      • by kilodelta (843627)
        Well they look to be easily hackable. The codes are only 4 digits. But there's a big sticker that says it's very naughty to either hack it or cut it off. Still, I'd cut it off then just ship it back to the PD collect.
        • They'd receive a mangled wheel lock back that they have photo evidence of being attached to your car, with a matching serial number on the lock. They'll have your licence plate and so they'll know who/where you are. They'd bill you for a new one, and maybe prosecute for damage.
          • by b0s0z0ku (752509)
            What about NOT damaging the boot? Basically, spot-weld a hemispherical "hubcap" to several places on the wheel rim. This will make the boot just slide off and be unable to grip the wheel. And it's probably illegal for them to attempt to remove something that's an integral part of the wheel. Then again: they could just tow you :/

            -b.

          • by kilodelta (843627)
            Well yes, I'm aware of that. The units don't appear to be constructed all that well. I remember the old Denver Boot and those were solidly built, these don't look like they might survive a collision with the curb.

            Of course you'd wreck your wheel in the process. I love all the law and order folks who don't realize that our rights are being gradually eroded by something so simple as letting private contractors take over municipal services.
    • You have parking tickets. In other words, you've violated city code. So what's wrong with them taking some of your hard earned cash because you are a repeat offender of the code?

      Most folks agree that many laws are present for apparent 'cash' value. (speeding, parking, red-light cameras, etc) But what needs to be realized is that there is no trickery done by the laws or officers who are pledged to enforce them, just to get your money. I mean, technically if you don't want them to take your money, don't ille

      • Just remember, they only get your hard earned cash if you break those laws. If you follow them, you'll have nothing to worry or complain about.


        You must have been born yesterday, or that was a very poor attempt at sarcasm.

        I've had it happen numerous times. The most 'amusing' was when my car was parked directly under a sign that said "No Parking 2am-6am" The ticket was written at 1pm. So, what do I do, on the ticket, there was no method to fight it presented. The police suggested I let the ticket go
        • Well it sounds as though you have a crappy situation there in your city/town. I can understand your frustration.
          • The problem is that when the police make a mistake, the onus falls upon the accused. When I first ran into the problem with the parking ticket, I thought it would be a simple thing of talking with the local police department and having them say, "Yup, our goof." and tear it up.

            Instead what I got was, "Yeah, our goof, the guy was in training. Just leave the ticket alone until it turns into a warrant, then you can argue your case in front of a judge." Not only is that a waste of resources for everyone i
            • Give a full report to your local news station and let them know that this 'tax waste' is taking place. They love those types of fights.

              And I do agree that the system is designed to frustrate a person so they will want to pay to get it over and done with. It's really not a system of 'justice' as one would think.
        • by kilodelta (843627)
          Now that is a story of what can happen when the police are involved. Thanks for telling us about it.
      • by kilodelta (843627)
        I'd have no problem with this had the city not installed more than 2,000 NEW parking meters. It's a revenue issue, plain and simple. For example, the area around Brown University is all 2 and 3 hour parking zones. So every day at 10:30AM you see a massive wave of employees and students going out and moving their cars.

        Brown does provide parking but its expensive and there isn't that much of it. So you have no option but to play the parking shuffle. It's the same with overnight parking. They tout it as a s
      • Near where I live they just went and increased the time meters ran by two hours, well past business hours and into restaurant times. So if you want to walk around and have dinner or see a show you have to run out and feed the meter. No attempt to get public input of course, just a transparent attempt to gouge money out of people and hopefully write more tickets.
  • Buy Now! (Score:1, Insightful)

    by hlomas (1010351)
    All for the low, low price of your personal freedoms!
  • The question is who is policing the police?

    Remember, George Washington and our founding fathers were considered terrorists.
    • by Kingrames (858416)
      To take it a step further...

      George Washington was considered a terrorist, was not involved in a political party, and in his farewell address warned us against taking side in political parties and never to let them control the bureaucracy.
    • No one can police the police when they fear the loss of their cushy jobs, beautiful homes, SUVs, vacations, 401Ks, entertaiment systems, etc. A terrorist is defined as a person who has the resources and intent to effect change in society whether by means violent or otherwise. The operative word is 'change' not necessarily 'violence'.
    • George Washington and our founding fathers were considered terrorists.

      Because he targeted so many babies and burned down so many towns. Held all those hostages. Shot civilians in cold blood.

      Please.

      Nobody with a brain ever considered George Washington a terrorist.

      I suspect you're confused because so many real terrorists, like Ho Chi Minh, have compared themselves to George Washington. There are millions of useless idiots who believe claims like Ho's, and some of them may have forced you to parrot their idiocy to pass their class.

      It's okay now. You can think for yourself.

  • by Newer Guy (520108) on Sunday September 23, 2007 @02:28PM (#20720827)
    Problem is, toys can't replace common sense or good old walking the beat crime fighting. Besides, many more people get killed in a month from car accidents then all that got killed on 9/11. I'll also bet that property damage in a year from those accidents far exceeds the property damage done on 9/11. Yet we spend BILLIONS on terrorism, and practicallly nothing on making cars safer (in fact, the cars of today are less safe-look at how well the bumpers don't work on new cars). Or, look at health insurance. If they put those billions into making sure the 30 million uninsured people in this country had health care, many more people would live then died on 9/11. Look, I'm not trying to devalue what happened on 9/11. It was terrible! BUT our priorities are really f**ked up! The military can't fix the big problems in this country. We need to use our money on basics, not toys! I don't know about you, but my money pays for food and lodging for my family before I buy a wide screen TV with it. Of course, Halliburton isn't in the health care business either.
    • "BUT our priorities are really f**ked up!"

      I couldn't agree more with all your sentiments. Just looking at the "War on Terror" angle, both the US and UK have expended lots of energy attacking the liberties of their citizens and introducing draconian legislation for very little return - a couple of dozen people banged up in prison in the case of the UK (most of whom could have been dealt with by existing legislation anyway.

      Technology cannot replace common-sense. However, the authorities no longer have an
    • I have seen this "car accident" argument a lot lately on Slashdot. You wackos all must read the same forums, and you were unjustly modded up accordingly. It is an ignorant position. I could make a list of all the things the gov't spends more money on than car safety defending against that kill far fewer people. Things like murder, HIV, Breast Cancer, etc. It's not about the body count. It's about how these things affect our lives and what level of risk society is willing to accept. For things like car trave
  • I'd like to how these companies and agencies react when hardware blueprints and software source code for their (very likely) proprietary products get subpoenaed [news.com] by tech savvy defense lawyers. A reasonable court* would hold that a defendant has a right to examine the devices for his defense. Neither state secrets nor trade secrets will (given a reasonable court*) be a justification to hide the proprietary bits.

    Since I expect neither the companies nor the government will be too keen on letting such material
  • by ThatsNotPudding (1045640) on Sunday September 23, 2007 @03:52PM (#20721425)
    then we will all be free.
  • I can feel safer now that we have so many new surveilance devices keeping an eye on the general population.

    Oh, where's Osama bin Laden right now, you see him with that stuff? No? Hmm, I think this is turning out to be like the Hubbel telescope -- it's great stuff and cost bundles, but the lens is pointed in the WRONG F@#%(&*# DIRECTION!!
  • Sounds almost like a get-smart episode.

  • Problem - Solution:
    Overbearing satellites - sombrero
    Nanohelicopters - fly swatter
    Towers, sensors and radar - pantomime horse outfit
    Ranged finger and iris scans - sunglasses and gloves

    One step solution: Pantomime horse wearing sunglasses, gloves and a sombrero carrying a fly swatter.
  • police (Score:2, Funny)

    by syedelyas (1159799)
    so the police can stay at their office in good and relax while watching the crime would happen and eating popcorn. i think the police will get more fatter and lazy :D
  • "Seventy percent of all criminal activity can be tied to a vehicle," says Mark Windover, president of Remington ELSAG Law Enforcement Systems, which is marketing its product to 250 U.S. police agencies."

    Hold on a second; what percent of criminal activity is related to Homeland Security? I'll bet it's very low. Now cut that to 70%.

    The Department of Homeland Security Mission Statement [dhs.gov] says:

    We will lead the unified national effort to secure America. We will prevent and deter terrorist attacks and protec

  • having small gadgets to help in keeping crimes at bay..that's technology being used to the fullest. is it really, now? more like being phobic and hiding behind all the reasons they can come out with just to get the approval of the public. typical.

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