Call me a civil liberties
prude, but I don't want John Poindexter tracking my body part contours.
Or my silhouette pixels,
for that matter.
Not since Monty Python's
Ministry of Silly Walks has a government devoted so much money and study to
watching our steps.
Admiral Poindexter, who
supervised the strutting Oliver North during the Iran-contra machinations, is
now supervising the Pentagon's attempt to create an Orwellian "virtual,
centralized grand database," which could put a spyglass on Americans' every
move, from literally the way Americans move to their virtual moves, scanning
shopping, e-mail, bank deposits, vacations, medical prescriptions, academic
grades and trips to the vet. (Sometimes pets are the first to go in biological
One of the technologies the
Pentagon is working on, as The A.P.'s Michael Sniffen reported, is a radar-based
device that can identify people by the way they walk for use in a new
antiterrorist surveillance system.
"Operating on the
theory that an individual's walk is as unique as a signature, the Pentagon has
financed a research project at the Georgia Institute of Technology that has been
80 to 95 percent successful in identifying people," he wrote.
The Pentagon, which wants
to be able to identify people at 500 feet, has also enlisted the help of
Carnegie Mellon University. Researchers there in biometrics are developing a
video recognition method of gait analysis, which could be used by embassy
security officers to check out shadowy figures.
Researchers, who are just
beginning to test their method with campus cameras, say it has a laboratory
success rate of 90 percent for identifying people far away by observing their
walk — and not just people who walk as distinctly as Ronald Reagan, Marilyn
Monroe or Hannibal Lecter.
"People have different
styles of moving due to their individual idiosyncrasies as well as the
differences in physical dimensions and weights of body limbs," the
Carnegie-Mellon team says on its Web site, which features "spatio-temporal
gaits" and "3-D body tracking."
When libertarians, civil
and otherwise, learned about Admiral Poindexter's grandiose plan to invade our
privacy with the spooky Total Information Awareness system, they yelped so much
that Congress demanded a report before allowing further research.
With the terrorist level at
orange, and Al Qaeda replicating faster than the villainous Agent Smith in
"The Matrix Reloaded," the Pentagon delivered the plan yesterday to
Senator Ron Wyden, the alarmed Oregon Democrat who pushed through legislation
requiring the report and forbidding the use of the Big Brother system without a
new law governing it.
bureaucratic flair, the crowd at Total Information Awareness tried to calm fears
by changing its name to Terrorist Information Awareness. The part about walks is
on Page 10 of the report, buried in technical language about "multimodal
fusion," "biometric signatures" and "human kinematics."
"The goal of this
program," it says, "is to identify humans as unique individuals (not
necessarily by name) at a distance, at any time of the day or night, during all
weather conditions, with noncooperative subjects, possibly disguised."
Not quite as colorful as
the report of the Ministry of Silly Walks, which had research on "the
Anglo-French Silly Walk (La Marché Futile)" and confirmed intelligence
reports that the "Japanese have a man who can bend his leg back over his
head and back again with every single step."
The Mr. Roboto of the
Village Voice, Brendan Koerner, said it might be easy to fool "this creepy
brand of surveillance. . . . Try it out yourself — how hard is it to affect a
little limp, walk on your insteps a smidgen more or simply don a heavy overcoat?
(Yes, that last strategy works.) And what if a basketball injury suddenly gives
you the gait of a wanted Iraqi biochemist?"
Gene Greneker, the head of
the research project at Georgia Tech, admitted some kinks to The A.P.: "A
woman switching from flats to high heels probably wouldn't change her signature
significantly. But if she switched to combat boots, that might have a difference."
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