Governments must move beyond over-fortification and embrace a new way to protect their citizens
By Martin Cronin, CEO of PatriotOne Technologies
If you’re a follower of security theatre, you know that the American stage in 2018 has had a compelling season so far. Police in several American cities wore riot gear while white supremacists and counter-protestors marched in the streets. Schools, shaken by two consecutive shootings at public high schools, poured state and federal money into security capabilities previously reserved for prisons. And New York City, which welcomed 61.8 million tourists in 2017, installed 1,500 bollards after a 2017 vehicle ramming killed eight.
Politicians, compelled to act by an anxious public, are right to overcorrect when bad actors expose vulnerabilities. But those measures—which guard against repeat incidents of a specific attack—do more to reassure the public than protect them. If New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio wants to ensure the $4 billion in tourism returns next year, the bollards are a good investment. They will help visiting (and native) pedestrians feel safer.
But if the goal is to prevent future attacks, the fortifications are unlikely to help. The next perpetrator will simply choose a new target or employ new methods in their bid for chaos. In an era where even a lone actor with a gun can shred the social contract in seconds, governments must move beyond over-fortification and embrace a new way to protect their citizens.
Life before 9/11
Those of us who remember the world before Sept. 11, 2001, recall life free from the shadow of sudden, unpredictable violence. After a small cadre of terrorists killed thousands on U.S. soil, the shaken superpower took measures to protect itself that have reshaped Western expectations of what safety looks like.
Almost overnight, assault rifle-toting police and soldiers appeared at major transportation hubs. Pilots barricaded cockpit doors. Airline passengers submitted themselves to what was now considered a necessarily long and invasive gauntlet: jackets off, water bottles jettisoned, tweezers—tweezers!—banned.
The high-profile efforts largely worked. In 2009, when a would-be bomber was caught attempting to smuggle explosives on-board in his underwear, Janet Napolitano declared airline security a success. In fact, there has not been a successful mid-air attack on a U.S aircraft since.
Deterrence works, but only to a point. Despite the fact that investigations have shown American airline security to be full of holes, airplanes themselves appear to be too hard a target. Instead, terrorists are pushed to their periphery. Shortly after they abandoned planes, terror networks killed scores in train bombings in London and Madrid. Even airports are not entirely safe. Gunmen at the Brussels International Airport in 2016 and Fort Lauderdale International Airport in 2017 leveled their attacks just outside the security perimeters.
Today, the world is still in the midst of a crisis. Potential violence can be unleashed at almost any time in any place by any radicalized, rejected, or disenfranchised person. And those measures we’ve put in place to protect us—the bollards, the guns, the metal detectors, the CCTV systems—are the very items that ever-so-subtly remind us of that persistent, oppressive danger. “Don’t get too comfortable,” they whisper. “Fight or flight?” they ask. “You should have worn sneakers,” they suggest. The fortress we have built in the West is a study in contradiction, at once necessary and imperfect, comforting and unsettling.
What’s worse, it’s no match for the next clever attack.
If security theatre comforts the public but tips our hand to bad actors, why not turn to technologies that run undercover? Simply put, they sew distrust in institutions. This year, law enforcement and security organizations fought public relations battles over covert operations and technologies uncovered by the press.
When the American Civil Liberties Union discovered that Amazon was testing its in-video facial recognition software with police departments in Florida and Washington state, the Internet lit up. Facial recognition software is unreliable and biased against people of color, said critics. The technology could be used to track protestors or immigrants, said others. Even security experts said it could put departments in violation of the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unlawful search.
Even those who worried less about civil rights had their concerns. “I don’t share the ACLU’s heebie-jeebies about big government,” Orlando Sun-Sentinel reporter Scott Maxwell said in a video op-ed, “what does give me pause is we don’t know what’s going on.”
When adopting new technologies, transparency and proper legislation is the key that unlocks public trust. Robyn Greene, policy counsel and public affairs lead for New America’s Open Technology Institute, wrote in Slate that cities are pushing back against police technology by requiring them to draft policies and procedures to preserve civil liberties. And even where those strides aren’t being made, cities are holding public hearings on the tech.
Bringing these technologies into the light puts their future use in question. Shortly after it was uncovered, the Orlando Police Department dropped the program, even though it was only being used in a handful of cameras. Likewise, New Orleans dropped the predictive policing platform Palantir after it reported by the press following an undisclosed six-year run.
So, citizens are willing to give up some measure of comfort and privacy in the name of safety, but only with their consent. Could there be a middle ground? The U.S. Transportation Safety Administration could point the way.
This year, Boston Globe reported on Quiet Skies, a covert TSA operation that asks federal air marshals to watch and report on ordinary citizens as they move about public airports. According to the report, air marshals have trailed a Southwest Airlines flight attendant, a businesswoman passing through the Middle East, and other unremarkable travelers. The previously undisclosed program, in place for years, caused a mild uproar.
Quiet skies create a noise
TSA Administrator David Petroske defended the program in USA Today: “I would say to the American public: Ordinary citizens don’t need to worry about Quiet Skies. They don’t. Actually, ordinary citizens should be very happy that a program like Quiet Skies is in place because I think everybody expects us to do everything that we can do that protects the privacy and constitutional rights of our citizens to ensure that there is not an incident in an aircraft in flight.”
But that didn’t save it from a week’s worth of headlines in national print and digital publications.
But the TSA also earned praise this summer for its decisions to put body scanners in subways, install 3-D scanners at airports and keep in place baggage inspection at 150 small airports went uncontested. They weren’t damned as search violations, instead, they were called wise decisions and groundbreaking new measures.
It’s exactly this kind of asset detection that companies like Patriot One believe to be the future of public security. The world needs a security measure that is both proactive and reactive, visible, but not a threat to a person’s privacy or civil rights. We believe that a citizenry already accustomed to body scanning at transportation hubs would not only accept, but welcome the protection that comes from a multi-sensor platform system keeping watch over a wide variety of places.
Imagine, for a moment, that a bad actor passes into a casino. He may or may not be scanned at the doors. He may or may not catch the notice of the security team on duty. But a low-profile, integrated system would provide several points for threat detection.
Our PATSCAN family of technologies, for example, includes a PATSCAN VRS (video recognition system) that could screen patrons before they even enter the casino. Enhanced by AI-powered object recognition software, the camera system identifies and flags forbidden objects like open-carry handguns, as well as can potentially detect rifles being put into large duffel bags at the trunk of a car in a parking lot.
As the patron walks toward the building from the parking lot, the PATSCAN TMS (targeted magnetic sensor) concealed in planter boxes scans the individual and duffle bag for large mass casualty threat objects, such as rifles and bombs. And while passing through the entrance, our principle technology PATSCAN CMR (cognitive microwave radar) screens for concealed weapons, explosive vests and other cataloged threat items.
Finally, a PATSCAN PDX (personal electronic device) and PATSCAN BLX (bottle liquid) explosives scanners sit at the registration desk; ensuring no such threats exist in everyday objects, like laptop computers, tablets, mobile phones or bottled beverages.
All of these technologies are then integrated into the PATSCAN CNX, a complete platform monitoring system that connects all threat solutions and is operated by security headquarters.
Integrated threat detection systems, like these in Patriot One’s PATSCAN family, are not silver bullets. Security staff must still be hired and then trained to these new technologies. Signs should be posted for transparency and when activated in public places, approved by the appropriate civic bodies. And they must be properly introduced to a public who wants to move freely—and safely—in open spaces.
The ever-present possibility of spontaneous violence has pushed our governments to militarize its police forces, turn schools into small fortresses, and use unlegislated technologies to covertly identify and track private citizens. This is not the world we want to live in.
Low-profile asset scanning systems offer a middle ground. By deploying them in public parks, on college campuses, in office buildings, and other high-traffic areas, police and other security forces can detect weapons as soon as they cross the perimeter. Adequate public hearings, socialization, and publicity would both inform the public and deter bad actors, who might never be exactly sure of where scanners have been installed. And integrated systems that notify 911 call centers could hasten the emergency workers that defend our citizenry.
Deter. Detect. Defend. That’s the future of public security.
This article was previously published in Intersec Magazine. Patriot One Technologies is the sponsor of this blog.