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Airborne military craft to conduct facial recognition from the sky

Facial recognition

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(NaturalNews) The era of privacy -- or, at least, the era of the expectation of privacy in the U.S., the first nation in history to even recognize it as an inherent right -- appears to officially be over. And of course, it's all for our own protection.

The Washington Post reported recently that military surveillance craft that were set to be placed over suburban Baltimore sometime this year were initially being designed to carry video surveillance cameras that are able to distinguish between humans and wheeled vehicles from a distance of some five kilometers, say documents released by the Army to a pro-privacy organization.

The Post said the documents, which were dated 2009, are very heavily redacted -- so much so that now it remains unclear how precise the resolution on the cameras was to be. The cameras would be contained aboard blimp-like aircraft that are tethered to the ground with heavy cables; similar aircraft were deployed to Afghanistan to help troops at nearby NATO bases spot Taliban insurgents approaching the base or attempting to plant roadside bombs.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, which will monitor the surveillance systems for the three-year duration of the Maryland "exercise," will oversee the project. At least, that was the original plan; following disclosure of the mission, NORAD officials have now said that video cameras will not be carried on the airborne vehicles during that time period.

'Lots of potential for privacy abuse'

The Post noted:

Uncertainty over the capabilities of the Army aircraft has caused concern among privacy advocates. The Electronic Privacy Information Center, based in Washington, said that the blimp-like aircraft could potentially be outfitted with powerful cameras and even with facial recognition systems capable of identifying individual people.

"There is a lot of potential for privacy abuse if a surveillance device can identify a human at five kilometers [3.1 mi] away," Julia Horwitz, a consumer protection counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), which is fighting a legal battle for information about the surveillance aircraft, told the Post.

Last year, Army officials announced that the service was bringing its JLENS system, which is an acronym for Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, to the Aberdeen Proving Ground, a weapons testing facility that is based in Maryland. The exercise was to begin in October, but now it will most likely be postponed until December, according to NORAD spokeswoman Maj. Beth R. Smith.

In the past, Army officials said the surveillance system's purpose is to locate and track missiles and other national security threats, not monitor activities of Americans living or traveling on local busy thoroughfares.

Army won't rule out camera usage

The system includes two white 243-foot-long blimp-like balloons tethered to the ground that are able to remain aloft for up to 30 days and are capable of spotting missiles from 340 miles out. It comes with radar systems that can detect what security officials have dubbed "swarming boats" -- small, agile and fast watercraft that can threaten ships in port and at sea when they are packed with explosives.

However, JLENS has also rankled privacy experts. That's because Raytheon, a defense contractor that developed the system for the Army, has tested its surveillance capability to use high-altitude video cameras that are powerful enough to see people and vehicles at a distance of many miles. Those tests, the Post reported, took place at a military facility in Utah.

The paper said that, previously, both the Army and Raytheon had denied requests to discuss the infrared, video and other capabilities of the system. For a January story, Army officials told the Post that the service had "no current plans" to equip the blimp-borne system with surveillance cameras deployed to Aberdeen. However, the service also refused to rule out the possibility of using such systems at some point, or sharing the resultant video footage with federal, state or local law enforcement.

According to EPIC's website, the group filed its FOIA request Nov. 1, 2013.




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