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DARPA Contract Hints At Real-Time Video Spying 73

Posted by kdawson
from the i-know-what-you-did-last-minute dept.
The Washington Post has a story picking apart a DARPA contract document to assert that advanced video spying from the sky is on the way. The contract in question was awarded last month and involves indexing video feeds and matching feeds against stored footage. The example given is for an analyst to ask for an alert whenever any real-time Predator feed from Iraq shows a vehicle making a U-turn. "Last month, Kitware, a small software company with offices in New York and North Carolina, teamed up with 19 other companies and universities and won the $6.7 million first phase of the DARPA contract, which is not expected to be completed before 2011. During the Cold War, satellites and aircraft took still pictures that intelligence analysts reviewed one frame at a time to identify the locations of missile silos, airplane hangars, submarine pens and factories, said... an expert in space and intelligence matters. 'Now with new full-motion video intelligence techniques, we are looking at people and their behavior in public,' he said. The resolution capability of the video systems ranges from four inches to a foot, depending on the collector and environmental conditions at the time, according to the DARPA paper."
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DARPA Contract Hints At Real-Time Video Spying

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  • by ionix5891 (1228718) on Monday October 20, 2008 @08:08AM (#25439269)

    selling umbrellas (or tinfoil hats?)

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Spazztastic (814296)
      And don't forget removing fillings! It's all a conspiracy by the MLB!
    • by mcgrew (92797) * on Monday October 20, 2008 @09:04AM (#25439633) Homepage Journal

      What good is a phone call if you're unable to speak, Mr Anderson?

      What good is an umbrella when there are ATM cameras, store cameras, red light cameras, etc that the government can switch between in real time at will? That's your biggest threat, not a satellite camera. The satellite camera finds you and perhaps follows your car, although that will be unnecessary since you have a cell phone and On-Star and a GPS mapping system they can use to track you.

      As someone's sig says, Orwell was an optimist.

      • by ToadMan8 (521480) on Monday October 20, 2008 @09:55AM (#25440161)
        Government requests be damned! Verizon charges everybody 10 bucks / month for GPS tracking; even the new debt clock [usnews.com] can't handle that much!
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by vux984 (928602)

          Government requests be damned! Verizon charges everybody 10 bucks / month for GPS tracking; even the new debt clock can't handle that much!

          Verizon charges you 10 bucks to tell you where you are. But they surely collect that information regardless of whether you purchase access to it. Meanwhile its still available to -them- to be handed over to government, data-mined, and otherwise sold to advertisers.

          I'm sure there is all sorts of information you can determine from data-mining cellular gps data... what perc

      • by Warhawke (1312723)
        "I thought what I'd do is pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes."
      • by jtgd (807477)

        What good is an umbrella when there are ATM cameras, store cameras, red light cameras, etc that the government can switch between in real time at will?

        Maybe we should all start wearing burkas.

        • by mcgrew (92797) *
          Or George Bush masks (Until january when we'll switch to McCain or Obama masks)
    • by jo42 (227475)

      Time to paint "FU Bushtard!" on the roof of yer house...

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Rob the Bold (788862)

        Time to paint "FU Bushtard!" on the roof of yer house...

        They coulda read that from satellite. Time to paint it on your car roof and embroider it on your hat. Me, I'll just take a sharpie to my poor bald head.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Dare nMc (468959)

        well paint the key 0x09 F9 ... C0 [elliottback.com] Then they will have to blur out your house, or be in violation of the DMCA. (or arrest you, and paint your house; charging you government contractor rates to do so)

  • Cloudy (Score:4, Insightful)

    by courteaudotbiz (1191083) on Monday October 20, 2008 @08:18AM (#25439333) Homepage
    Well I guess that if I don't want to be caught, I just have to wait 'til it's cloudy to commit a crime...
  • Not very scary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FourthAge (1377519) on Monday October 20, 2008 @08:26AM (#25439375) Journal

    Sorry to say that I just can't be paranoid about "spy satellites" in the cellphone era. Satellite imaging won't give real-time coverage of a large area, so it is useless for mass surveillance.

    These days, there's no point inventing new privacy threats to worry about, since you already carry an radio tracking device, and there's already at least one database with a list of your recent movements in it. But by all means, do continue to keep your passport in a tin-foil wrapper...

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Learn to read. The article refers to streaming video from unmanned reconnaissance vehicles, not satellite images.

      But you are right. They are already implementing intrusive monitoring on a grand scale. This is just more of the same.

    • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Monday October 20, 2008 @08:48AM (#25439475) Journal

      Let everyone worry about the tracking and data gathering. It stops people from actually worrying about the slide to a goverment that might use it.

      A total surveilance system that is NOT used is harmless. But a goverment that WANTS a total surveilance system can introduce one anytime they want to.

      Focus on keep democracy going, not worrying about what some goverment might use someday. Prevent them from coming into power.

      Remember that the phone-tapping done by the bush administration didn't use any new tech. Phone taps have been around since phones have been around. Hell, telegraphs and telex was tapped. What happened is that a goverment was allowed into power that used the tech.

      Fighting the tech is impossible unless you want society to stop advancing. Stop the wrong people from getting into power instead.

      Of course, that would require you to vote for someone on other grounds then the one promising you a tax cut or who seems to a be a likeable guy. America, were a guy looses the election because he just seems to smart.

      • by sjdude (470014)

        Stop the wrong people from getting into power instead.

        Just take away fiat money and you take away the incentive the "wrong people" have for wanting to be in power in the first place.

        Oh yeah, I forgot, that's already happening right now. New currency to replace the US Dollar, anyone?

      • "Of course, that would require you to vote for someone on other grounds then the one promising you a tax cut or who seems to a be a likeable guy."

        In most cases, who the F* cares about voting? Ok, I dare question voting...

        Why? Just uphold accountability with the people in power (i.e. do something about it).

        It doesn't matter who you vote for, just that people in power must be held accountable for their decisions. It's all about accountability, instead of just screwing things up, unbelievable networking,

      • Yeah. Because elitism is SUCH a great form of government. It's not like it's ever been tried before...
    • by cusco (717999)
      A few UAVs borrowed from the military are already deployed and functioning along the southern border, and Fatherland Security ordered a whole snot-load of them a couple of months back for its own use. Although they declared that they were going to be used for illegal alien and drug interdiction along the borders I really don't see anything preventing them from being used over New York City if they want.
      • A few UAVs borrowed from the military are already deployed and functioning along the southern border...

        That's interesting, but I think their uses would be very limited if they were over NYC, where there is a lot of cover (buildings) and the number of people is very large. Conversely, cellphone-based tracking continues to be useful in any city, regardless of the population size and the number of buildings.

    • Speak for yourself, some of us have NOT given up our privacy like you have.

      Just because people bend over for violation A, doesn't mean we have to accept violation B, or C.

  • Resolution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ledow (319597) on Monday October 20, 2008 @08:49AM (#25439485) Homepage

    "The resolution capability of the video systems ranges from four inches to a foot"

    Although impressive to myself, who doesn't keep up with the latest and greatest satellite technology, this is hardly a cause for concern. Imagine yourself from above in four-inch pixels (assuming the accuracy of that statement and that the hardware can *actually* do that in non-laboratory conditions). Maybe a handful of dots total, one or maybe two pixels wide? You'd be able to "spot" a car, but you wouldn't necessarily be able to tell it's make, occupants, etc. You'd be able to spot a person wearing normal clothes in the open air (JUST) but you'd have a hard job telling *how many* people were in that blob of pixels and you'd have no chance at telling *who* they were and if they were adequately camoflauged... no chance. You'd spot more of their shadows, to be honest.

    You *might* be able to spot if a vehicle in the desert does a U-turn if you have an AWFUL lot of processing power and a very limited area to monitor. You might be able to easily spot a rush of tanks on your position. You *might* be able to find some WMD's if they are being moved. But, to be honest, I don't see how this is any better than what the military have now except being "real-time" (which just seems to multiply the costs of everything from the satellite to its maintenance to the radio bandwidth required and the processing power needed with little benefit over "snapshot"-style systems if they are quick enough). Although real-time intelligence like this would have a place, it's hardly Enemy Of The State even if we assume a 2x "liar factor".

    Useful in wartime - no doubt about it. Useful in peacetime - Highly dubious. And for the conspiracy theorists: Useful for spying on the people - No.

    • Re:Resolution (Score:4, Insightful)

      by demachina (71715) on Monday October 20, 2008 @10:26AM (#25440527)

      This isn't insightful, this guy didn't even read the /. front page.

      This video analysis doesn't have to be from satellites, the example in the submission is explicitly a Predator which is a UAV. The video has the resolution to see your every movement, just maybe not tiny objects in your hand. In fact the goal appears to be to analyze video from UAV's like Predator and Global Hawk, and there are a number of similar systems for blimps and high altitude balloons. This surveillance isn't even remotely new, its been going on in Iraq, Afghanistan and in the U.S. on the Mexican border for years. In fact its been happening in the U.S. from news and police helicopters since the 70's. I'm pretty sure they've had Infrared video for years too. It sounds like DARPA is just advancing the state of watching the video with computers especially to go back and scan archive footage for an event of particular interest to kick it back to a human to look at to save expensive human time staring at video playbacks, and maybe to allow a dramatic increase in the number of surveillance cameras deployed....somewhere....without the corresponding expensive increase in humans to watch them.

      Its not particularly of concern for spying on Americans in their homes since most of the DOD UAV's are in Iraq, Afghanistan and on the borders, unless you live on the border. On the other hand there is nothing stopping it from being turned to spy on people in the U.S. in the name of homeland defense, other than a few flimsy laws, the Bush administration has probably already thrown aside. I news pieces on the blimp video systems were definitely being aimed at the domestic market to watch big sporting events and the like. Of course since we've had news and police helicopters spying on us since the 1970's nothing new here, move along, other than DARPA is funding moving image recognition software.

      If you value your privacy close your curtains and buy lots and lots of insulation.

    • by jimicus (737525)

      You'd be able to spot a person wearing normal clothes in the open air (JUST) but you'd have a hard job telling *how many* people were in that blob of pixels and you'd have no chance at telling *who* they were and if they were adequately camoflauged... no chance.

      So initial identification can be done by people on the ground; once that's done the spy satellite does the following. Just like any police show involving helicopters.

    • by e-scetic (1003976)

      You make the assumption that it's only useful for spying on people IFF the resolution is good enough to recognize them if they were standing, walking, etc. You say a few pixels/dots aren't useful. But then you go on to say it's useful for tracking cars. How is tracking cars not the same as spying on people?

      Suppose you're considered a troublemaker, you're labeled a domestic terrorist so it's useful to know who you're interacting with. With this technology we'll know you visited a particular restaurant

    • So basically it will look like Grand Theft Auto 2.
      I hope some of us remember what it looked like before it went 3D.

    • you wouldn't necessarily be able to tell it's make, occupants,

      It can be more important to know exactly where that car travelled for every moment of the past 48 hours, what addresses it stopped at, etc. In other words, the Feds already know who you are - they just want to know everything that you do, and high resolution surveillance is cheaper than gumshoes on the ground. Plus, car tracking and even pedestrian tracking seem feasibly automatable.

      Yes, the implications of such a system are horrifying (combin

    • Will your opinion remain unchanged in 10 years, when the resolution increases by 20x?

  • by NoobixCube (1133473) on Monday October 20, 2008 @08:53AM (#25439511) Journal

    Seriously, how many science-realities do we have today that were science-fiction a few years (or decades) ago? Did the film writers or book authors get any royalties when corporations suddenly took out patents on their ideas?

    Any technology will be abused in the wrong (i.e 'human') hands, so I'm just not going to bother complaining about the huge privacy concerns (I'm sure others will do enough of that, it's Slashdot afterall), instead, I'm going to say it's interesting to see another science-fiction technology become science-reality.

  • I can imagine the hats that look like a sidewalk from the top. Such paranoid people need to not do evil things that would cause someone to need to track you down or else stop watching conspiracy theory movies. You really think the government is going to start shaving an ID onto your head and force everyone to walk around without hats. The technology here is for tracking vehicles. Wouldn't be cool if they could employ this for the Amber Alert system too? Let them spend money working on these things.
  • by Chrisq (894406) on Monday October 20, 2008 @09:39AM (#25439975)
    Just about everywhere is covered by conventional video cameras anyway. One more in the sky won't make any difference!
  • There seems to be a a lot of activity in this area (cf.: http://yro.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=08/09/05/1157243 [slashdot.org]) with not so much satellites as the basic technology but UAVs like the Predator, which - according to this (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RQ-1) article is also operated by the CIA. With a service ceiling of app. 25,000 feet you should not be able to see or or hear then coming and it should be able to deliver much higer resolutions than four inches from an altitude of, say, 3000 feet. This could
  • by mmalove (919245) on Monday October 20, 2008 @10:10AM (#25440337)

    When a politician claims they don't know, don't recall or don't remember a particular event that inconveniently disagrees with the self portrait they're trying to paint, they should get one of these cameras to help them remember.

    • That's what our cameras should be used for. Instead our employees want to spy on us, the owners, to keep us in line. WAKE UP PEOPLE!

  • Those will be the new scheduled attack days I suspect. Nothing is foolproof.
  • Grant, not Contract (Score:3, Informative)

    by feijai (898706) on Monday October 20, 2008 @10:57AM (#25440955)
    And that makes all the difference in the world.

    The term I picked up on was "universities". Universities do not get involved in contracts. They live in the world of DAPRA grants, typically at level 6.1 and rarely 6.2 (old terms for "basic research" and "transition technology"). DARPA's grants are often blue-sky stuff: "Imagine that we had sharks with laser beams on their heads. How could we use them?" DARPA is encouraged to think forward even when the technology support doesn't exist. That's what the first "A" in DARPA stands for. So just because this is a system for doing real-time video surveillance (which is fairly common topicwise), and the blue-sky example is a keyhole satellite, doesn't at all mean that there's a keyhole satellite which enables real-time video surveillance. It just means the project manager is being encouraged to dream big.

  • A DARPA story that doesn't mention Metal Gear Solid? Hold on, let me try: "What about cameras mounted to the ends of slow-moving rockets?"
  • - Reasonably attractive hooker to seduce target: $1000
    - Hidden spy camera to record target's naughty shenanigans: $500
    - Express Mail of blackmail photos to targets' home address: $50
    - Making defense contractors look like overpriced idiots: priceless.

  • Looks like I'm gonna have to repaint the one finger salute on the roof of my home.

  • Movies like "Deja Vu" are meticulously designed to make this kind of surveillance acceptable to the public.

    Would be very interesting to follow the money trail of films like that.

  • I saw a demonstration of some interesting technology that can pick moving objects out of a digital TV feed and analyze their velocity vectors in real time. It is based (from what I gather) on manipulating and analyzing the B-frames from the data stream. I'm wondering if this is what they are trying to develop.

  • by airuck (300354) on Monday October 20, 2008 @02:42PM (#25444415)

    Kitware was the company founded to support the Visualization Toolkit (VTK) [vtk.org], an open source software system for data visualization. VTK has a huge C++ library as well as hooks for scripting for very rapid development. Who wouldn't want to build custom 3D views of their data [flickr.com]?

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      By the way, Kitware [kitware.com] also develops CMake, the build system used by Second Life [secondlife.com] and KDE.

  • When i flip the bastards off?

    This is REALLY getting out of hand.

  • A very secretive/private girl I know at a very big university in a certain western state just got a grant (or part of a grant) to do something like this a few months ago. She has for the past few years been interning at a couple large defense contractors and also certain government agencies involved in space.

    She didn't go into much and I don't want to give away any more details than I should (losing her funding would suck, she has already spent two years on this as her thesis work).

    Basically she said they a

    • A guy i know recently told me that while being under NDA, he's willing to slip me that such stuff *does* in fact already exist, involves huge supercomputers (think 200,000+ cores) and is already being used in Iraq. Maybe he was also talking about stuff that is going to be introduced. He works in the digital movie business so I'm not sure what his connection with that stuff is, but he is in himself credible.

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