A former Air Force officer designed a police scanning system that mirrors the technology he developed for tracking Improvised Explosive Device makers in the Middle East.

Now, California police are using the test program that allows for surveillance of city streets en masse and in real time, with recording capabilities much like a DVR, to rewind and gather evidence on crimes.

But the strength of the system is also the biggest argument against it: It sees and records everything.

Gizmodo picked up on the Center for Investigative Reporting’s 30-minute piece on Ross McNutt, the former Air Force officer, and his company, Persistent Surveillance Systems.

“In Compton last year, police began quietly testing a system that allowed them to do something incredible: Watch every car and person in real time as they ebbed and flowed around the city. Every assault, every purse snatched, every car speeding away was on record—all thanks to an Ohio company that monitors cities from the air,” according to Gizmodo.

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McNutt’s company pitches their “Hawkeye” program on their website, showing off an impressive zoom capability (Image via Persistent Surveillance Systems).

Sgt. Doug Iketani of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department said his office purposely kept the implementation of the program quiet because they were aware of the privacy concerns.

“This system was kept, kinda, confidential, from the public,” he said. “A lot of people do have a problem with the eye-in-the-sky, the ‘Big Brother,’ so in order to mitigate any of those kind of complaints, we basically kept it pretty hush-hush.”

The array of cameras on the surveillance aircraft records high resolution images of a 25-square-mile area for up to six continuous hours; it can track every person and vehicle on the ground, beaming back the pictures in real time, giving the police city-wide tracking capabilities.

Captain Jon Romero of the Los Angeles Police Department thinks the cameras will eventually be considered as innocuous as lighted streets.

“In early America when we started putting up streetlights, people thought, this is the government, trying to watch what we are doing,” Romero said, “and so over time, things shifted. And so now, if you try to take down streetlights in Los Angeles, or Boston or anywhere else, people would say ‘No, It’s public safety, you’re hurting our public safety just so you can save money.’

“I think that cameras will eventually get there, where cameras will not be a problem in the future,” Romero said.

Check out the Center for Investigative Reporting’s video below (long, but worth the view). Do you think you’ll ever put wide-area surveillance cameras on the same level as streetlights?