He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake, he knows if you've been bad or good...

In twenty or thirty years, the U.S. government may know where you are most of the time, via its warrantless seizures of cell phone metadata and facial recognition via interconnected video feeds from cameras all across the country.

I. BOSS is Watching You

While this dystopian vision of the future is by no means set in stone; many of the pieces of it are or may be already in place.

Multiple sources, including former administrators claim the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) is seizing cell phone location records for virtually all cell-phone using citizens (the NSA denies this).  The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and U.S. Military are pursuing fully autonomous robotic soldiers, capable of identifying and killing designated targets.  And President Obama has already admitted to approving the targeting killing of American citizens overseas with drone strikes.  But one key missing ingredient in creating a lethal legion for a future police state is facial recognition.
FBI tracking
The DHS and FBI want to be able to identify all Americans in public locations in real time to combat "terrorism" and other crimes. [Image Source: Hang the Bankers]
At present facial recognition has long been an imprecise science.  But with advanced computer power and new algorithms, the art of recognizing someone from stored images -- a function our brains perform automatically -- is nearing maturity.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released documents this week to The New York Times that reveal that after two years a facial recognition project dubbed Biometric Optical Surveillance System (BOSS) is showing serious results.  Like most successful facial recognition systems it relies on stereoscopy (3D filming) to generate a 3D model of its targets.

The contract for the project (HSHQDC-12-I-00001) was awarded in 2012 under the name "Bio-threat Characterization Research". 

The contract was awarded to Electronic Warfare Associates Government Systems, Inc. (EWA GSI) a company that specializes in "electronic warfare" and whose motto is "enabling a more secure future".  Based in Herndon, Virginia and founded in 2002, EWA received $5.15M USD in funding for the project.

EWA GSI's headquarters at the Hallmark Bldg in Herndon, Virg. [Image Source: Google]

(EWA also received a DHS contract of $69K to look into breaking into citizens' PIN-protected phones via using algorithms to obtain Personal Unlock Codes (PUC), also known as a PIN Unlocked Key (PUK) -- a code used by carriers to override PIN protections.)

The DHS describes BOSS in a contract document:

[We recognize] the need for commercially available 3D biometric facial imaging systems that effectively collect data samples from subjects under a variety of circumstances.  The DHS is responsible for the biometric identification of person to determine if person entering areas are currently on federal watch lists.

In other words, the DHS wants to be able to use special purpose-made sensors, along with public sector sensors, to "spot" people in databases.  Targets could then be targeted with "enforcement" efforts including questioning or arrest in theory.

Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) privacy advocate Ginger McCall warned The NYT, "This technology is always billed as antiterrorism, but then it drifts into other applications.  We need a real conversation about whether and how we want this technology to be used, and now is the time for that debate."

She points out that the government is already armed databases of photos of law-abiding citizens (drivers license DBs), but that it only lacks the algorithms to cross-reference that database with spotted faces in real-time.

II. BOSS Shows Modest Success, But is Imperfect

The BOSS system was developed at a Kentucky branch office last year, in conjunction with the laboratory of Aly Farag, a Univ. of Louisville computer vision specialist.  The completed device utilized "a smart optical sensor augmented with range measurement, infrared acquisition (IR), and mobility for image acquisition."

In late 2012 it was field tested at a Kennewick, Wash. stadium where the system identified 30 targets out a crowd of 1,000.  The testing was carried out with the assistance of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNL).  EWA VP Ed Tivol told The New York Times that when the system was first created it took six to eight minutes to process an image, but by the time of the final testing, it could process them in under 30 seconds.  

While the system fell short of its goal of 80 to 90 percent recognition at 100 m -- something Mr. Tivol says "has never been done" -- it did achieve 60 to 70 percent confidence, as algorithms to deal with shadows and variable lighting in public locations were tweaked.

Washington Toyota Center
The system was tested at the Kennewick, Wash. Toyota Center. [Image Source: WSU]

The result was close, but a bit to slow and a bit too inaccurate for mass deployment.  In the DHS's words -- "It was not ready for [our] customer [a government agency]."

EWA is not alone in its goal of allowing the government to "spot" you in the wild.  Carnegie Mellon University has developed advanced facial recognition software as part of a DARPA funded research project.  The FBI has called using facial recognition to track members of the public a "top goal" and has budgeted a $1B USD towards the effort.

The FBI used a crude early version of its technology to try to identify the Boston Bombing attack suspects, but the system came up short.

Boston bomber
The FBI tried to use facial recognition to ID the Boston bombing suspects, but the system failed. [Image Source: FBI/Salon]

A (literally) killer app for the FBI, DHS, and military would be to combined a network of civilian and government cameras to identify "terrorists" on the ground, while having lightweight versions of the same facial recognition algorithms loaded into low power drone processors so that responding drones could confirm the target identity, once deployed to the general location based on the ground camera network info.

Such a system could be supported by an automated backend that takes personal information (names, addresses, etc.) and tracks down pictures of a suspected "terrorist", etc. on the internet (e.g. Raytheon Comp.'s (RTN"RIOT" system) which would then be fed into a database to trigger the ground camera network to hunt for the suspect's face and then send an appropriate action to the drones' controlling database.

One dropdown might designate an individual for "capture" by a drone, while another might designated them for death.

III. EWA Paid of Politicians to Score Big Brother System Contract

EWA GSI has deep ties to many former or present members of Congress, which perhaps explains part of why Congress approved funding of its Orwellian project.  Campaign finance records reveal [source: 123] EWA vice presidents donated to the campaigns of former Rep. Alan Mollohan (D - West Virg.), Democrat-turned-Republican former Rep. Virgil Goode (D, then R - Virg.), former Rep. Tom Feeney (R- Flor.), and senate minority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R - Kent.).  EWA's President donated generously to late former Rep. John Murtha (R-Penn.). 

Mitch McConnelll
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kent.) funneled kickbacks to EWA. [Image Source: AP]

Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D - Tex.) also received donations directly for EWA GSI via the BEST PAC.  EWA also directly funded funded current Rep. John Mica (R - Flor.), former Rep. Mollohan, and former Rep. Murtha, according to OpenSecrets

Both Rep. Feeney and Rep. Murtha share checkered records, with Mr. Feeney be accused of voter fraud in 2004 and more significantly Rep. Murtha who was under investigation by the FBI at the time of his death for earmarks in various bills for small defense contractors (like EWA).

These payments appeared to be paying off -- Rep. Mollogna was personally responsible for earmarks that funded EWA GSI's work.  According to information that Roll Call dug up:

Raytheon and Trex Enterprises — received $2 million in earmarks requested by Reyes in the Defense appropriations bill. In the same bill, Electronic Warfare Associates received a $5 million earmark from Mollohan, and Concurrent Technologies received $7 million in three separate earmarks requested by Murtha.
The earmark in question for a "BIGFOOT Tag Receiver" can be found here on Earmark Watch and was attached to the 2008 House Defense appropriations bill [PDF].  Bigfoot is a proprietary active RFID tag/beacon [PDF] that EWA markets.

Both Congress and the President are happy to hand out spying contracts, for the right price.
[Image Source: Google Images]
Former Rep. Mollohan also received heavy donation from Azimuth, Inc., a defense contractor who EWA serves as a "mentor" firm to.  Azimuth scored a $20M USD DHS contract in 2005.  At the time Rep. Mollohan defended these earmarks, and is quoted by Free Republic as saying, "All I care about is supporting companies and [federal] programs that companies are doing in my Congressional district."

But the real punch line comes from the $6M USD earmark given to EWA and the Univ. of Louisville in 2010 as part of the 2010 Defense Appropriations bill.  In other words, EWA officials "sponsored" Senate minority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell and were then lavished with a $6M USD contract.

Sources: DHS via Document Cloud, The New York Times

"Google fired a shot heard 'round the world, and now a second American company has answered the call to defend the rights of the Chinese people." -- Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.)

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