The Washington Post has a story looking into the capabilities of spy satellites and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), such as Predators.
Although the exploits of the Predator, the Global Hawk and other airborne collectors of information have been widely publicized, there are few authoritative descriptions of what they can see on the ground.
But some insights into the capabilities of the Predator and other aircraft can be drawn from a DARPA paper that describes the tasks of a contractor that will develop a method of indexing and rapidly finding video from archived aerial surveillance tapes collected over past years.
“The U.S. military and intelligence communities have an ever increasing need to monitor live video feeds and search large volumes of archived video data for activities of interest due to the rapid growth in development and fielding of motion video systems,” according to the DARPA paper, which was written in March but released last month.
The Washington Post explains that these systems are only growing in sophistication.
“Now with new full-motion video intelligence techniques, we are looking at people and their behavior in public,” [said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, an expert in space and intelligence matters.]
The resolution capability of the video systems ranges from four inches to a foot, depending on the collector and environmental conditions at the time, according to the DARPA paper. The video itself is also shaped by the angle to the ground from which it is shot, although there are 3-D capabilities that allow viewers on the ground to manipulate videos of objects so they can see them from different vantage points.
Systems also exist that allow tracking, moving-target detection of objects under forest or other cover and determination of exact geographic location. Development is underway of systems that allow recognition of faces and gait — in other words, human identification.
Last month, I wrote about the fact that UAVs are becoming so sophisticated that they can see through walls and into your home. I also talked about privacy and civil liberty concerns connected with satellite and aerial surveillance a couple of weeks ago. Broadly speaking, there are significant possibilities for misuse and abuse of such vast powers, and there must be strict regulations any such programs.