Privacy SOS

Target is really, really into surveillance

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Target corporation was the first to join a DHS program meant to bring corporations to the table for national security and disaster related discussions. In the video above, two Target executives sit at the table with FEMA for an event kicking off their collaboration.

It makes sense that Target is the first corporation to join with DHS in this endeavor. The company appears to be obsessed with surveillance.

Target’s name keeps popping up in stories about video surveillance nationwide. It has pioneered relationships between corporations and state and local governments to share surveillance and intelligence information. It even has its own fusion centers.

The most high profile of its surveillance activities has been the company’s financing of expansive CCTV surveillance systems in cities nationwide. One of the literally dozens of these cities is West Palm Beach, where Target bought the city enough surveillance cameras to blanket the downtown area:

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Target calls its private fusion centers “investigations centers” — the company has people in these centers working 24/7 to monitor surveillance operations at its hundreds of stores nationwide using high tech tools, even satellite imagery. The corporation has at least 23 of these investigations centers and a couple forensic facilities, too, meaning there is one Target surveillance center for every three government fusion centers. The Boston Globe reports:
Target is at the forefront of this type of retail crime fighting. It has opened 14 investigation centers similar to the one in Westborough, [MA] as well as two forensics labs to enhance video footage and analyze fingerprints and a command center at the company’s Minneapolis headquarters. The retailer also operates one of the largest and most advanced networks of cameras – a system that automatically sends alerts when shoppers dwell too long in front of merchandise or roam outside stores after closing time.
The Corporate Command Center, or “C3’’ as Target insiders call it, uses cutting-edge technology to assist with crisis preparedness and response, including satellite imagery and remote surveillance of stores and distribution centers. In a separate part of the headquarters, Target maintains a forensics lab that can enhance video and audio footage, and analyze fingerprints faster than some police labs. The discounter even helps law-enforcement authorities examine evidence when they are working cases involving rival merchants.
The Globe story also says that Target has a “tips and leads” “suspicious activity reporting” program, which sounds like an exact mirror of the regularly-mocked, DHS-led program of the same name.
In Minneapolis, police went to Target to seek expertise and assistance before it planned a CCTV expansion in the downtown area.
“I knew nothing about video systems, and it didn’t make sense for me or the police department, which knew nothing about video, to try to develop a video system,” Allen says, “so we worked very closely with Target — which is headquartered downtown and has been a great crime-prevention partner with us — to identify how to build a video system. They have 1,500 stores, and every store has 70 to 90 cameras — that’s a lot of cameras. They understand video systems, so they helped us design the system. Their legal department helped us get the clearances to install cameras.”
Private security officers outnumbered Minneapolis police in the SafeZone by an approximate 13-to-1 ratio in 2006, when Janeé Harteau — now Deputy Chief Harteau — was appointed First Precinct Inspector and worked to formalize the SafeZone Collaborative. To take advantage of that disparity, partnerships were formed with private security firms, and a radio-link program was established that allowed private security officers to have direct communication with police on a common channel.
Target corporation has been making its mark on the security think-tank front, as well. Two years ago the company jointly published a report with a private policing think tank we’ve examined here before, the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF).
PERF and Target put out a report in January 2010 describing what they likely judge as winning examples of corporate-government cooperation in the security realm, particularly where that cooperation centers on the sharing of surveillance camera and suspicious activity data. The report highlights Target’s work with police in twenty cities nationwide as part of its “Safe Cities” program.
Target also contributed to the financing of a major study on the efficacy of surveillance cameras, which was jointly published last year by the Urban Institute and the Department of Justice.

On a related note, reader @zarkinfrood tipped me off about a strange room at the top of Rockefellar Center in NYC, sponsored by Target. From the YouTube video below (video has since been removed):
The designers engaged TYZX Inc to provide an elaborate tracking system that takes advantage of Color Kinetics’ precisely controllable lighting systems for a truly immersive and interactive environment. Data from four stereo video cameras is combined to locate and individually track up to 30 separate visitors as they enter and walk around the space. Upon entry each visitor is automatically assigned a “personality” by the 3-D tracking system and is in turn followed by individualized light colors and patterns. The designers in Los Angeles are able to continuously monitor this New York space remotely via a live webcam and high-speed Internet connection, and are able to upload and adjust new patterns remotely. New response patterns are tested on a regular basis. The result? According to Electroland the space “represents an attempt to translate video-game interactivity, computer intelligence and personalized electronic experiences into an environmental experience.”

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