Friday, May 20, 2011

Big Brother is watching you - in miniature!

Wired online magazine points out that the state has a whole raft of new and unobtrusive tracking technologies to keep an eye on us.

Scents that make you trackable, indoors and out. Nanocrystals that stick to your body, and light up on night-vision goggles. Miniradar that maps your location on Google Earth.

You can run, but you'll learn it's hard to hide from a new range of military tech.

The Defense Department calls it "tagging, tracking and locating", or TTL, this business of finding and following high-value targets on the battlefield. Ever since SEAL Team 6 took out Osama bin Laden, we’ve learned a lot about the technology used by special operators to find and reach their targets, from stealth helicopters to biometric identification devices. TTL gear, though, ranks among the spookiest Special Operations’ extremely spooky arsenal.

The military has spent a hefty chunk of change on TTL tech: $450 million has gone to a single company, Blackbird Technologies of Herndon, Virginia, which has emerged as the leader in this covert field. Millions more have gone to the development of bleeding-edge tracking methods, encompassing everything from human-thermal-fingerprint detection and miniature crop-dusting drones to radar-responsive tags.

Miniature tracking beacon (US 10c coin [dime] shown for scale)

Al-Qaida says it found spies using infrared beacons to call in drone strikes in Pakistan. A Pakistani Taliban commander claims the United States puts tracking "chips" in cellphones, in order to train Hellfire missiles on militants. But these aren’t the only technologies that can secretly track people.

With one technology, trackers might not even need to see you to get a fix on your location. Like bloodhounds on the hunt, they can smell their way to you. Tracer Detection Technology Corp. marks targets with a paraffin wax crayon, filled with a perfluorocarbon, a thermally-stable compound used in everything from refrigerators to cosmetics. The perfluorocarbon’s vapor can then be tracked with sensors, such as a gas chromatograph. The smell lingers for hours. Think locking yourself in a room with the windows closed or removing the tag will help? Too bad, you still reek. According to a research report submitted to the Justice Department (.pdf), the perfluorocarbon tracers can "permeate closed doors and windows, containers and luggage", and even give you away for a while after a tagged item is removed.

Over the years, the company has received a number of research contracts from the Navy. But Tracer president Jay Fraser won’t say much about how those projects have gone. "Tracer is developing a unique TTL capability that will make it very difficult for enemy and criminal enterprises to operate," he e-mails Danger Room. "The nature of our current and pending customers makes it hard for us to answer the rest of your questions."

Now a second tracer: Imagine walking up to a target and patting him on the back with a clear liquid on your hand. He might never notice it, but you’d be able to see - and follow - him from a distance using night vision goggles.

There's more at the link, including photographs of many of the technologies mentioned.

I know the Wired article speaks of these new technologies and items in the context of the War on Terror, but there's nothing stopping local police forces or other surveillance agencies from using them against civilian targets. I daresay that's already being done . . . but the information is doubtless very closely held. After all, it took months, if not years, before it was discovered that a State police force was routinely asking for the cellphones of people it stopped, and downloading their contents.

Big Brother is not to be trusted with such toys, I'm afraid.


1 comment:

Bill N. said...

I was issued the mini infrared strobe similar to the one shown in the link on a 9 volt battery when I was deployed to Iraq in 2009. You could see it flashing with a PVS-14 (NVD) even when inside a pocket of our uniforms