How More Cameras Could Stop Terror

Jonathan Turley wrote last week that more surveillance would not likely stop the type of violence we witnessed in the Boston Marathon bombing.  Turley writes, “as a thousand papercuts from countless new laws and surveillance systems slowly kill our privacy, we might want to ask whether a fishbowl society will actually make us safer or just make us feel that way.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a strong believer in civil liberties, but Turley’s discourse is a vanilla argument that lacks understanding of what a future of digital images might look like.

Today greater surveillance simply equates to more evidence after a violent act is perpetrated.  While the threat of eventual capture might dissuade some violent acts, it might not dissuade the type of gross acts of violence perpetrated by those who don’t care for their own safety.  This is the point Turley is making.  I don’t want to debate which camp the Tsarnaev brothers fall into.

But Turley fails to realize the future doesn’t necessarily look like the present he assumes.  As camera systems become both more pervasive and higher resolution systems are deployed – (a natural phenomenon of technology evolution is technology gets better at the same price and more pervasive over time) – then more can be done with the digital assets that are collected.  Computers can be used to match individuals overtime and across locations.  That means computer systems can identify when a given person shows-up in a given place and identify how frequently they are there.  These future systems can essentially digitally track our movements while looking for digitally discernible patterns.

Did the brothers scout their plan prior to Patriot’s Day? Could these future systems – cameras and computers tied together in one continuous mesh – have identified Tamerlan, who as you’ll recall had been previously interviewed by FBI? Did they act suspicious in the time leading up to the bomb being detonated and could that behavior have been digitally detected?  The future of these systems is real-time continuous communication.

These future systems might not stop all acts of violence, but one can certainly see where the momentum of technology will take them.