The Department of Homeland Security is looking to install “gunshot detector” microphones that are capable of listening to conversations throughout “urban areas” of Washington, DC.
According to a Request for Information (RFI) posted on the FedBizOpps website on January 18 (PDF), the DHS, in tandem with the Secret Service, “Is seeking information on commercially available gunshot detection technologies for fixed site surveillance applications. Typical coverage areas are expected to be from 10s to 100s of acres per site, located within urban areas. Due to the secure nature of these sites, a high gunshot detection rate (>95%) is strongly desired while daily, operational monitoring of the system by external parties is undesirable.”
Note that the location of the surveillance system will be in “urban areas,” and will cover hundreds of acres per each unit, meaning the detection technologies are not merely being prepared for sensitive areas around the White House or the Capitol building.
The RFI lists a number of questions potential contractors are required to answer, including whether sensors could be placed to “aesthetically match their surroundings,” and whether the system can be, “integrated to communicate with other detection systems.”
The DHS asks potential contractors to respond to the request for information by February 18. A five-year contract is on offer to the company which demonstrates, “the best overall value to the Government.”
While the systems are touted as “gunshot detectors,” as the New York Times reported in May 2012, similar technology is already installed in over 70 cities around the country, and in some cases it is being used to listen to conversations.
“In at least one city, New Bedford, Mass., where sensors recorded a loud street argument that accompanied a fatal shooting in December, the system has raised questions about privacy and the reach of police surveillance, even in the service of reducing gun violence,” states the report
Frank Camera, the lawyer for Jonathan Flores, a man charged with murder, complained that the technology is “opening up a whole can of worms.”
“If the police are utilizing these conversations, then the issue is, where does it stop?” he said.
This led the ACLU to warn that the technology could represent a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment if misused.
The ACLU’s Jay Stanley asked, “whether microphones can be remotely activated by police who want to listen to nearby conversations,” noting that it was illegal for police “to make audio recordings of conversations in which they are not a participant without a warrant.”
“If the courts start allowing recordings of conversations picked up by these devices to be admitted as evidence, then it will provide an additional incentive to the police to install microphones in our public spaces, over and above what is justified by the level of effectiveness the technology proves to have in pinpointing gun shots,” wrote Stanley.
Given the fact that the system costs, “$200,000 to $250,000 per square mile of coverage to install,” according to a separate NY Times report, the DHS’ plan to cover hundreds of acres with each system is likely to run up huge costs.
As we have previously highlighted, numerous major cities are currently being fitted with Intellistreets ‘smart’ street lighting systems that also have the capability of recording conversations and sending them directly to authorities via wi-fi.