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More Cities Looking to New Surveillance System of 'Orwellian Proportions' That Uses an Overhead Blimp to Take Pictures Every Second

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"We have since spent the last eight years perfecting it."

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

A new type of surveillance system of "Orwellian proportions" being developed by a private U.S. firm could be coming to a city or town near you.

Persistent Surveillance Systems is designed to record what happens across entire cities and towns in order to monitor for any criminal activity that might be going on. But unlike many surveillance systems with cameras you can see monitoring the activities that happen where you are, this one isn't visible to the naked eye, according to news.com.au.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock Photo Credit: Shutterstock

That's because the system uses a blimp that circles the city more than a half-mile overhead and takes a picture of the entire area, not just every hour or even every minute, but every second.

The image is then sent to a control center on the ground where the real-time information is kept in a Google Maps-style imagery feature. The equipment stores pictures of everything that happens within a 40-mile radius. That way, whenever authorities are looking for a suspect involved in a crime, all they have to do is pull up the location of where they believe the crime occurred and identify the person or persons who were there.

So far, PSS has only been used in a few cities, but firm founder Ross McNutt hopes that will change.

“We developed the system quickly to get an initial capability [within] about 18 months. We have since spent the last eight years perfecting it, lowering the cost and increasing the effectiveness,” McNutt said.

He said the idea came about in 2004 response to an increasingly violent and deadly situation on the ground for American soldiers during the Iraq War. McNutt was teaching at the Airforce Institute of Technology at the time.

“The [improvised explosive devices] were killing many of our troops and our commander asked that we see what we could do to help,” McNutt said. “We developed an idea that would allow us to track bombers back to the place they came from so we could then address the source of the bombs."

The U.S. military found the equipment so helpful that it spent more than $1 billion while trying to enhance it. Now, it isn't just the Pentagon that's eyeing KPPS — so are law enforcement agencies.

Baltimore, Philadelphia, Moscow and London are among the major cities reportedly considering the technology. The company also has about $133 million worth of proposals from other potential clients.

McNutt said he believes it can help reverse a skyrocketing crime rate in Dayton, Ohio. About 27,000 crimes are committed in the city each year, costing the municipality about $3,400 per resident. But if the KPPS can reduce the crime rate in Dayton by 20 or 30 percent, as McNutt said it can, taxpayers could end up saving anywhere between $96 and $144 million.

McNutt said he recognizes the privacy concerns people may have, but said they've developed "a whole host of privacy policies and procedures that protect" privacy.

"We have designed the system to be limited to one pixel per person, which only allows us to barely see a person and track them to a car," he said.

McNutt added that his company only supports reported crime and ongoing crime investigations.

The technology is being considered by some cities two years after the bombshell revelation came that the National Security Agency had spied on millions of Americans' phone calls and emails in an effort to catch terrorists. The issue has been one of civil liberties versus national security and vigorously debated in Washington.

The controversy extends beyond the usual partisan divide as President Barack Obama and some Republicans in Congress support the NSA's bulk data collection. While the terror provisions of the program are still in place, lawmakers agreed to reform parts of the bulk data collection program in May after months of opponents voicing privacy concerns.

Editor's note: This post has been updated to reflect that the name of the private firm is Persistent Surveillance Systems, not Kestrel Persistent Surveillance Systems, as previously reported. Kestrel is the name of the surveillance system used by the U.S. military to help detect IEDs in the Middle East.

(H/T: Daily Mail)

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