Privacy SOS

Technology advances at accelerating speeds each year. In the United States, a lot of the best and brightest minds and research dollars are devoted to engineering new military, surveillance and law enforcement technologies. Many of these technologies of surveillance, repression and control are developed and built here in Massachusetts, but the industry thrives nationwide. Below are some examples of technologies the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has authorized federal, state and local agencies to purchase using DHS funds.

Night-vision gun sights, monoculars and binoculars, including the American Technologies Network NVM14-3, a “hand-held, head-mounted, helmet-mounted, or weapon-mounted Night Vision System that enables walking, driving, weapon firing, short-range surveillance, map reading, vehicle maintenance and administering first aid” in the dark. The monocular costs $2999. 

Mobile surveillance units like this one cost at a minimum $53,900 and come with four pan/tilt/zoom (PTZ) surveillance cameras and remote controls and monitors that can be accessed from anywhere in the world via internet. Optional add-ons come at additional expense and include automatic license plate readers; sirens; two way speakers; infrared cameras; extreme zoom cameras that can see human beings up to 1 mile away; motion detectors and satellite communications. Wanco, the company that manufactures the units, tells us that DHS and “many government agencies” are among their clients. (Different unit pictured; photo courtesy DoxTxob)

The “FirstView & Virtual Perimeter” are surveillance camera networking systems that allow people to monitor and control hundreds of cameras at a time. The photo to the right shows an operator viewing cameras at a Boston subway station. Cost for the basic system: $8995

This technology is shocking because of how seemingly innocuous it looks. Skip over to this site to see a picture of the “Toolbox Surveillance System” manufactured by Sur-Tech, Inc. For $16,250 you can own a surveillance system that sits in what looks like a toolbox in the bed of a truck.

Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR) systems are the new rage in law enforcement. The technology can capture thousands of license plates per minute and stores information in a database recording not only the license plate number, but also the GPS location of where it was “pinged”. The ACLU of Washington state has found that police do not delete any of this information, creating a treasure trove of personal data showing where people traveled, when and for how long.

This is a very dangerous technology if proper oversight and data controls aren't mandated. At present, controls are not in place to make sure that its use doesn't violate civil rights and liberties. Just imagine how easy it is for police to compile lists of people who attend AA meetings, activist gatherings, union meetings or visit pornography shops. All the cops have to do is park one of these machines at the entrance to any parking lot or on the street and they can compile a pretty accurate guest list for any event or occasion. 
Look out for lots more information on the use of these in Massachusetts; we have a public records request in with the state government to find out how these are being used in Massachusetts, paid for with federal funds. Check out this video to see how the technology works:

Iris scanning biometric technologies allow for the capture of an individual's unique iris pattern by taking a photograph. Images of irises are stored in databases and used as identifiers like fingerprints. Unlike fingerprints, however, iris scans can be captured from up to six feet away, on surveillance cameras or still cameras, even when the person being photographed is unaware of the spying. The technology —and its deployment— is advancing rapidly. Iris scans are already being used in law enforcement, immigration enforcement, military surveillance, retail shopping, and in prison-release programs. One manufacturer of iris scanning technology thinks that soon, everyone in the world will use iris scanning for access to buildings, their credit and banking data, and more. He envisions a world in which our eyes are clocked and monitored everywhere we go. 

ACLU legislative counsel Chris Calabrese worries that this technology could be easily used to track ordinary people as they go about their business: 

“If you can identify any individual at a distance and without their knowledge, you literally allow the physical tracking of a person anywhere there’s a camera and access to the Internet,” he said. Sound familiar? Watch the clip below to see what can happen when this technology becomes omnipresent.

Face recognition technology, like iris scanning, is a biometric identity measurement used to confirm identity matches in a variety of environments, from commercial to law enforcement. Tests performed at Logan Airport in 2003 showed that the technology didn't work very well; it failed to match 38 percent of the people it checked. But since then, industry experts say, the technology has advanced substantially. Homeland Security Newswire writes:

Facial imaging biometrics has refined the technology in recent years with 3D imaging and infra-red cameras overcoming early flaws such as strong sunlight or darkness making a comparison difficult. It is now possible to make a positive identification under any lighting conditions and while the subject is moving towards the camera.

Facial recognition software is one of the thousands of items DHS has authorized federal, state and local grant recipients to buy with their federal dollars. Just like with iris scanning technoloy, face recognition technology systems are in use throughout all levels of law enforcement in the United States. The Department of Justice maintains the largest collection of face images in their facial recognition data base, containing approximately 75 million entries.


tiny surveillance cameras

PTZ cameras

mile long zoom cameras


© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.