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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Police Use Google Earth Tech For Surveillance

James Nguyen |
April 19, 2014 | 10:18 a.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Being able to see cameras is one thing, but soon you'll just have to assume you're being watched (wikimedia/creative commons)
Being able to see cameras is one thing, but soon you'll just have to assume you're being watched (wikimedia/creative commons)
With recent concerns regarding government monitoring our data flow and communications through the internet, more troubling news regarding our privacy has come into light with the Los Angeles County’s new surveillance system.  

For the past year, the Los Angeles police department has been discreetly implementing a state-of –the-art surveillance system.  The Persistent Surveillance Systems is a private company based in Ohio founded by ex-Air Force veteran Ross McNutt. 

The system is designed to record and track the movement of every single car and person out on the streets of the L.A.  With features of live streaming and recording capabilities, the security system basically serves as a special “Google Maps,” where the police can “go back in time” and rewind crimes to see before, during, and after the events.  

This new form of security completely changes the way crimes might be solved in the future, and is a new tool the police can use to get invaluable information to solve their cases.  The system was implemented in Compton, so surveillance is still being limited to a relatively small area.  

The actual surveillance is being done by small aircrafts that are equipped with extremely powerful cameras. One would wonder how badly a surveillance system of this magnitude would break the bank for the LA County Sheriff’s Department, but according to McNutt, “Our whole system costs less than the price of a single police helicopter and costs less for an hour to operate than a police helicopter…But at the same time, it watches 10,000 times the area that a police helicopter could watch.”

Cheap as it may sound, perhaps the price of a single police helicopter isn’t all that is being paid for this form of surveillance.  Though the system is not supposed to be able to record faces or look into homes, it raises up many concerns about our privacy and the future of surveillance and crime prevention. 

Something very unsettling about all this is that the police kept the program a secret until recent, for fear of a negative reaction. Though the police are to protect and serve the public, in situations like this it seems the public is there to serve the police, to be rewound and fast forwarded on “Google Maps” screens as they see fit.   

Reach reporter James Nguyen here.



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