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Worldcrunch

Ears Of Big Brother? Gun Detection System Can Also Listen In On Conversations

Already in place in several cities, the federal Department of Homeland Security may install state-of-the-art acoustic technology in DC that can cover areas of up to 20 square miles.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Secret Service have requested information to support the installation of a gunshot detection system in Washington D.C.

Such a system is already in place in various cities, as outlined last May by The New York Times, and it records a whole lot more than gunshots. A seargeant for the Richmond Police Department told the Times he could hear, "doors slamming, birds chirping, cars on the highway, horns honking."

These systems can also record conversations, which raises questions about the limits of police surveillance. Indeed, one murder case in New Bedford, Mass. is expected to hinge on a recorded argument, according to the Times.

The main supplier of the current system is ShotSpotter, which lists Lockheed Martin and the Ferguson Group as two of its three Strategic Partners.

Lockheed manufactures many unmanned systems that could soon be flying U.S. airspace. The Ferguson Group "lobbies Congress and the federal agencies on behalf of public and private interests across the country. The Ferguson Group is the largest federal representative of local governments in Washington, DC."

OpenSecrets has ShotSpotter paying Ferguson Group $390,000 from 2010 to 2012.

A few of the questions DHS wants to answers are:

- The exact effective range of the system

- How easily can the sensors be concealed "aesthetically to match their surroundings"

- Can the system be used without "use of live fire or blanks"

- Can the system be made portable

- Will the system detect 95 percent or more of an areas gunshot incidents and can it be monitored by government agencies alone

SpotShotter says its wide-area acoustic technology can be used to cover areas of up to 20 square miles and has already logged more than half-a-million incidents.

In addition to this most recent request for the Secret Service, the ShotSpotter system is used by a long list of regional law enforcement agencies outlined on the company's website.

This layout Homeland Security is looking for could be very similar ShotSpotter's regional systems, but DHS wants the ability to monitor its system solely within federal agencies. 

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