The Technology Of Fighting Terrorism

Officials say that Ahmad Khan Rahami, the suspect in the New York City dumpster bombing that occurred on Saturday night, was captured in part because of an array of security cameras.  Several cameras took footage of Rahami lurking near the site of the bombings, and the photos and a license plate reader allowed officials to track and eventually apprehend Rahami.  As part of the process, authorities also sent out an alert to NYC cell phone users identifying Rahami as the suspect and asking for help in finding and capturing him.

57e06ccb130000930639d159The security cameras that took pictures of Rahami are part of a system of 8,000 cameras in Manhattan.  Officials call it the “Ring of Steel.”  Footage from the cameras, which are both government and private owned, is fed into the Lower Manhattan Security Coordination Center, where it is monitored by police.  And the camera system apparently will only grow more extensive — New York is considering installing cameras in every street light, too.  There also are more than 200 license plate readers in New York City that can triangulate information with GPS systems to allow help officials track and capture suspect vehicles.

Other technology weapons deployed in the fight against terrorism in NYC include biological, chemical, and radiation sensors, “shot monitors” that detect gunfire, a system that collects alerts on suspicious packages or persons, and computer systems that analyze and organize the mass of information being received.

8,000 cameras already, and more on the way.  Real-time video feeds.  License plate readers.  Cell phone alerts.  Countless monitors.  GPS systems.  Vast computer data storage and analytic programs.  It’s the 21st century, folks, and we’ve got the high-tech law enforcement technology to prove it.  And don’t forget, too, that everyone you encounter on the streets has a device in their purse or pocket that will allow them to take a picture or video of anything interesting, too.

New York City must be the most photographed, monitored, analyzed place on Earth.  People who are concerned about the erosion of privacy — like me — can bemoan a future where innocent people are being routinely photographed, videotaped, and monitored by law enforcement as they go about their affairs, but whether we like it or not it’s the reality of the modern, terrorist-fighting world.  This time, the systems worked.

Freedom To Photograph

A settlement in Baltimore may clear the way for citizens to more freely exercise one of their First Amendment rights — in this case, their right to take photographs.

IMG_5977The Baltimore case arose from an increasingly common incident. The police were making an arrest, and a citizen was recording the events on his cell phone. A police officer told him to turn off the cell phone camera, claiming it was illegal to make such a recording. It isn’t, but the officers then took the citizen’s cell phone and deleted his recordings — including some personal recordings. He sued, and ultimately the City of Baltimore decided to settle. Part of the settlement is the establishment of new rules and policies governing the behavior of police officers who are being recorded by video. The general rule of thumb in the new policy is that, if a citizen is in a place where they have a right to be, they can take photographs and make recordings — and police officers can’t interfere, intimidate, or confiscate the cameras.

Police officers have been skittish about being photographed since the videotape of police officers beating Rodney King sparked riots. All too often, their response has been to attempt to bully the people taking the photographs, even when those people are acting lawfully and aren’t interfering with police activities. If the Baltimore settlement causes other governmental entities to adopt similar codes of conduct, it would be a great step forward.

Our cell phone cameras are a powerful tool to protect the population against police misconduct — and, for that matter, against other forms of improper governmental actions as well. Once police officers and other public employees realize that their activities may be recorded and then posted to YouTube or some other website, they may temper their excesses and take extra care to make sure that their conduct conforms to law and departmental policy. That’s a good thing for everyone, police included.

Out, Damned Spot!

I like taking pictures — so much so that my lovely wife gently kids me by making a snapshot button motion and the sound of a shutter closing whenever she knows I’ve seen something I think is photo-worthy. For the last few years, I’ve used a Canon PowerShot SX260HS to give me my photo fix.

IMG_4586It’s been a great, dependable camera, with only one problem.  A few months ago I noticed a small dust spot on the interior of the lens.  Over time, the spot grew and became more noticeable in my photos.  I tried cleaning the outer lens, blowing air into the lens area, and even jarring the camera to try to dislodge the spot.  Nothing worked, so I asked Kish to take the camera to a shop for cleaning.  That night she reported that the shopkeeper said that cleaning the camera would requires shipping it somewhere for at least two months and would cost more than the camera’s original purchase price.  Why not buy a new camera, she said.

Ah ha! I thought.  That’s obviously the camera manufacturers’ planned obsolescence gambit.  They know there is dust in the world, and they design a camera that doesn’t keep out the dust and a lens that can’t be cleaned.  Then they sit back, satisfied, knowing that a noticeable interior dust spot will form on the lens and eventually the camera owner will yield to the inevitable.

Initially, I resisted this latest evidence of our “disposable” world.  We don’t live in the Sahara.  I take reasonably good care of the camera, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t last for more than a few years.  I continued to fiddle with the camera, hoping for improvement.  I specifically framed my photos so that the dust spot smudge would be in a darkened area and therefore less noticeable.  But the spot continued to grow even more distinctive, ruining many an otherwise fine photo — until, like Lady Macbeth, I could abide the spot no more.

So now I’ve got a new Canon PowerShot camera that we picked up through our rewards points program.  I guess I’m going to have to keep it in a hermetically sealed container — and maybe even read the instruction manual, too.

Looking For Beauty, Wherever It May Be

When I’m on the road, I like to take my camera.  I think having a camera helps you notice things —  interesting things, pretty things, things you might otherwise ignore as you endure the soul-sapping sameness that is modern air travel.

Today I had to change planes at the huge Dallas-Fort Worth Airport.  I took the twisting, turning tram system to get from one terminal to another.  Rather than just slump down in a seat for a boring 10-minute ride, I resolved to check out the surroundings . . . and was treated to a beautiful interplay of sun, cloud, and blue sky over the Texas tarmac.

Our moods would be better if we took the time to just look around a bit and enjoy the view.  Carrying a camera helps you to do just that.