SkyCop: The Creepy Technology That Could Place Your City Under Pervasive Surveillance
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End the Lie
February 21st, 2013
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Memphis, Tennessee-based ESI Companies, Inc. is behind a quite creepy technology platform they call SkyCop, capable of enabling widespread, long-term surveillance across entire cities.
SkyCop is just one of many aspects of¬†the massive rise of video surveillance, including¬†cloud-based video surveillance, in¬†cities across the world. One must also consider the rise of¬†technologies like behavioral recognition¬†along with¬†a massive increase in the deployment¬†of¬†facial recognition¬†in everything from¬†mannequins in retail stores¬†to¬†border crossings¬†and¬†more.
While SkyCop sounds thoroughly futuristic as it integrates fusion centers, mobile surveillance systems, remote video systems, vehicle license plate and surveillance systems, digital recording systems and wireless communication, it has already been deployed in some areas.
The platform was originally developed in 2007 in concert with the Memphis Police Department,¬†according to¬†ESI Companies, as part of the police department‚Äôs Blue Crush Initiative.
While ESI seems to imply that ‚Äúa dramatic decrease in criminal activity in critical ‚Äėhot‚Äô spots for crime and has increased conviction rates‚ÄĚ is linked to their platform by pointing out that it happened after Memphis implemented SkyCop, this might not be the case.
One must point out that here has actually been a recent surge in some violent crime rates and, according to¬†reports, the Blue Crush program ‚Äúwas used only sparingly for much of the past year,‚ÄĚ largely due to budgetary constraints.
While ESI implicitly links SkyCop to the reduction in crime,¬†others say¬†it was actually Blue Crush, a program that involved much more than just the SkyCop platform.
Furthermore, those with a discerning eye likely note that this is nothing but an anecdote on the part of ESI ‚Äď even if SkyCop¬†was¬†somehow linked to the crime reduction ‚Äď and thus cannot be considered strong evidence by any means.
British non-profit Nacro, for instance, penned a¬†2002 briefing¬†covering ‚Äúresearch into the effectiveness of CCTV, which suggests that it is not always as successful at reducing crime as it is claimed to be.‚ÄĚ
Furthermore, Detective Chief Inspector Mike Neville, head of Scotland Yard‚Äôs Visual Images, Identifications and Detections Office¬†said in 2008¬†that the UK‚Äôs CCTV system was an ‚Äúutter fiasco‚ÄĚ and was related to solving only 3% of London‚Äôs street robberies.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has pointed out many other issues with video surveillance, not to mention the massive¬†privacy concerns surrounding license plate scanners¬†‚Äď another part of the SkyCop system ‚Äď brought up by¬†the ACLU¬†and¬†others.
Yet still Toledo, Ohio has deployed SkyCop as part of their Observation Research Intelligence Operations Network (ORION), and has plans to double the number of cameras to a total of 150 according to the¬†Toledo Free Press.
Toledo isn‚Äôt alone. The Fort Leonard Wood military police purchased two Dodge Chargers in 2009 outfitted with the SkyCop system according to¬†Guidon.
According to¬†El Paso Inc., the El Paso Police Department has ‚Äúquietly expanded its use of the SkyCop system‚ÄĚ since 2009 and raised concerns among the ACLU of Texas given ‚Äúthe technology‚Äôs potential to invade people‚Äôs privacy.‚ÄĚ
According to¬†ESI, others who have picked up SkyCop technologies include the city of Millington, Tennessee, Shelby County, Tennessee, Olive Branch, Mississippi and Brownsville, Texas.
Much of SkyCop‚Äôs claims are quite deceptive.
‚ÄúCrime centers, also known as fusion centers, are now recognized as a vital technological defense to combat exacerbating crime rates,‚ÄĚ the SkyCop website¬†claims.
In reality, a Senate panel concluded that the Department of Homeland Security‚Äôs fusion centers¬†produce ‚Äúpredominantly useless information‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúa bunch of crap.‚ÄĚ
The SkyCop platform seems to be aimed at creating an all-encompassing surveillance state integrating¬†solar powered¬†surveillance systems capable of wireless communications, gunshot recognition, environmental sensing devices, etc., Mobile License Plate Recognition & Video Surveillance Systems (MLPRVs), wireless network systems with a range of¬†30+ miles, and even data analytics¬†supposedly¬†allowing police to ‚Äúexamine past criminal behavior to better predict future criminal activity.‚ÄĚ
That kind of¬†crime prediction technology¬†‚Äď some would call it ‚Äúpre-crime‚ÄĚ or ‚Äúthreat assessment‚ÄĚ technology ‚Äď is surprisingly widespread.
It is unclear how accurate any of the claims made by SkyCop actually are, especially based on their misrepresentation of fusion centers and the power of video surveillance in general.
However, in my assessment, the bigger issue here is the fact that these types of systems are capable of massive invasions of privacy and violations of constitutionally protected rights which would never have been possible in the past.
Thanks to¬†Joe Cadillac¬†for emailing a link to the SkyCop¬†official website. Tips, as always, are very much appreciated!
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