Unbeknownst to most taxpayers, the federal government spends considerable sums every year funding the research, development, and procurement of advanced surveillance technologies. Often these funds are given to private companies that have a long-term financial interest in the development of cutting edge surveillance products. Luckily for them, they can get government assistance to develop these tools, and then profit off of selling the finished product back to government agencies. The Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Justice each have their own research and development programs for surveillance tools of all kinds, and state and local police departments nationwide benefit from the trickle down of technology and gear.
Meanwhile, the taxpayers who foot the bill are more often than not kept entirely in the dark about how these monies are spent. But some of this information is public, and you can read at least basic summaries of the grant awards if you know where to look.
One of the federal offices that funds substantial R&D in surveillance technology is the Office of Justice Programs' National Institute of Justice (NIJ). The NIJ describes itself as the "research, development and evaluation agency of the U.S. Department of Justice —  dedicated to improving knowledge and understanding of crime and justice issues through science. NIJ provides objective and independent knowledge and tools to reduce crime and promote justice, particularly at the state and local levels," its website says. The research monies invested at NIJ have a substantial effect on the tools, methodologies, and training systems deployed by police departments throughout the country, now and in the future. The agency's funding choices therefore have a real impact on hundreds of millions of people's lives.
For that reason, every now and then I peruse the NIJ website to see what kind of hair-brained schemes and research projects the DOJ is funding, with an eye towards local police department surveillance technologies. When I searched the website today, I found that the NIJ is putting lots of its R&D money towards investigating the efficacy of 'predictive policing', sometimes known as 'intelligence-led policing'. Others simply call it 'pre-crime'. Predictive policing uses big data, behavioral and associational surveillance models, and computer algorithms to direct public safety resources and focus patrols.
Among the 2013 NIJ-funded grant awards related to pre-crime are:
Among the other NIJ grant awards for 2013 are:
The government and private corporations are racing ahead to build the next big thing in domestic surveillance for police departments and federal law enforcement at all levels. Privacy law, meanwhile, is stuck in the big hair era.
Thanks to grant programs and funding streams from largely unaccountable, secretive federal agencies, our state and local police departments are increasingly resembling paramilitary organizations staffed with their own intelligence wings. This isn't your grandma's surveillance state.