ACLU: The PBS series NOVA, “Rise of the Drones,” recently aired a segment detailing the capabilities of a powerful aerial surveillance system known as ARGUS-IS, which is basically a super-high, 1.8 gigapixel resolution camera that can be mounted on a drone. As demonstrated in this clip, the system is capable of high-resolution monitoring and recording of an entire city. (The clip was written about in DefenseTech and in Slate.)
In the clip, the developer explains how the technology (which he also refers to with the apt name “Wide Area Persistent Stare”) is “equivalent to having up to a hundred Predators look at an area the size of a medium-sized city at once.”
ARGUS produces a high-resolution video image that covers 15 square miles. It’s all streamed to the ground and stored, and operators can zoom in upon any small area and watch the footage of that spot. Essentially, it is an animated, aerial version of the gigapixel cameras that got some attention for super-high resolution photographs created at Obama’s first inauguration and at a Vancouver Canucks fan gathering.
At first I didn’t think too much about this video because it seemed to be an utterly expected continuation of existing trends in camera power. But since it was brought to my attention, this technology keeps coming back up in my conversations with colleagues and in my thoughts. I think that’s because it is such a concrete embodiment of the “nightmare scenario” for drones, or at least several core elements of it.
First, it’s the culmination of the trend towards ever-more-pervasive surveillance cameras in American life. We’ve been objecting to that trend for years, and many of our public spaces are now under 24/7 video surveillance—often by cameras owned and operated by the police. But even in our most pessimistic moments, I don’t think we thought that every street, empty lot, garden, and field would be subject to video monitoring anytime soon. But that is precisely what this technology could enable. We’ve speculated about self-organizing swarms of drones being used to blanket entire cities with surveillance, but this technology makes it clear that nothing that complicated is required. [Continue reading…]