Big BOSS is watching you: DHS develops surveillance project for domestic purposes

Charles Rollet Contributor
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The federal government is developing high-tech surveillance technology which would be able to scan crowds and recognize people by their faces, raising concerns from privacy advocates, the New York Times reports.

The project is called the Biometric Optical Surveillance System or BOSS, and was originally started to identify terrorists in war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan. But in 2010 it was transferred to the Department of Homeland Security to be used for domestic purposes.

BOSS was developed partly thanks to University of Louisville computer vision specialist Aly Farag, who worked with Electronic Warfare Associates after Kentucky Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell earmarked a $5.2 million contract to the military contractor.

While the system is still far from perfect, it has made significant improvements. It now takes less than 30 seconds for it to identify suspects, while it took six to eight minutes at first.

The goal is to ultimately provide a 80 to 90 percent certain face match from a distance of up to 320 feet.

But some are already calling for the technology to have rules for how it can be used.

Ginger McCall, who obtained the documents about BOSS which she provided to the New York Times, said a debate is needed on the program’s potential applications.

“This technology is always billed as antiterrorism, but then it drifts into other applications,” McCall said. “We need a real conversation about whether and how we want this technology to be used, and now is the time for that debate.”

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