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Surveillance State of Mind: City Tested Advanced Monitoring Software at Boston Calling Last Year

By David Bloch | 08/11/2014
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According to a Dig report published last Thursday, during 2013’s Boston Calling music festival the City of Boston tested a “sophisticated new event monitoring platform” from IBM that utilizes surveillance camera footage and social media to “detect traffic congestion and suspicious objects, screen people for possible forensic identification purposes, and conduct real-time video analytics. […]More than 50 hours of recordings […] remain intact today.”

Internal IBM memos show “plans to use ‘Face Capture’ on ‘every person’ at the 2013 concert. Another defines a party of interest ‘as anyone who walks through the door.’ “The software can analyze “every passerby for height, clothing, and skin color.”

According to the report, “in 2013 alone, the city’s Department of Innovation and Technology spent more than $3.5 million on IBM ‘information technology [hardware]’ and ‘IT solutions.’ ”

Mayor Walsh’s press secretary, Kate Norton, admitted that the City did indeed test the software, but has not planned to “purse long-term use of the software” because they concluded that it had no “practical value for the City’s public safety needs.”

Boston Police, on the other hand, denied involvement in the pilot program – despite picture allegedly showing “Boston cops observing the IBM dashboard during Boston Calling.”

BPD has never been forthcoming when it comes to answering questions about potential wrongdoing and has a history of mismanagement of object recognition technologies. There’s no question that City and BPD officials could easily misuse the sophisticated data gathered from Face Capture software, especially if such troves are kept for long periods of time.

Norton further stated that the City “lack[s] a policy guiding use of this software,” and conceded that “there are a number of challenges presented by using this type of software, including, but not limited to, infrastructure support as well as legal and privacy concerns.”

Alex Matthews, from the constitutional rights organization Digital Fourth, characterized the program as “not constitutional or appropriate.” He continued:

“They’re asserting a general police power to capture anybody’s image and process it for law enforcement purposes just in case they later turn out to be guilty of something. That’s not OK.”

Read the full article at: DigBoston