BY CHRIS FARAONE, KENNETH LIPP & JONATHAN RILEY
PART I: YOU PARTIED HARD AT BOSTON CALLING AND THERE’S FACIAL RECOGNITION DATA TO PROVE IT
(originally published 8.7.14)
Nobody at either day of last year’s debut Boston Calling partied with much expectation of privacy. With an army of media photographers, selfie takers, and videographers recording every angle of the massive concert on Government Center, it was inherently clear that music fans were in the middle of a massive photo opp.
What Boston Calling attendees (and promoters, for that matter) didn’t know, however, was that they were all unwitting test subjects for a sophisticated new event monitoring platform. Namely, the city’s software and equipment gave authorities a live and detailed birdseye view of concertgoers, pedestrians, and vehicles in the vicinity of City Hall on May 25 and 26 of 2013 (as well as during the two days of a subsequent Boston Calling in September). We’re not talking about old school black and white surveillance cameras. More like technology that analyzes every passerby for height, clothing, and skin color.
Along with a dashboard that displays real-time alert data from social media and other nodes of input, city agencies captured thousands of faces using more than 10 cameras capable of intelligent video analysis. Their objective? To detect traffic congestion and suspicious objects, screen people for possible forensic identification purposes, and conduct real-time video analytics. Nevertheless, more than 50 hours of recordings — samples of which are highlighted herein as examples — remain intact today.
Dig reporters picked up on a scent leading to correspondence detailing the Boston Calling campaign while searching the deep web for keywords related to surveillance in Boston. Shockingly, these sensitive documents have been left exposed online for more than a year. Among them are memos written by employees of IBM, the outside contractor involved, presenting plans to use “Face Capture” on “every person” at the 2013 concert. Another defines a party of interest “as anyone who walks through the door.”
The urban laboratory described herein details specifications of a so-called Intelligent Operations Center designed and licensed by IBM. As it turns out, this integration of the company’s branded Smart Surveillance System (SSS) and Intelligent Video Analytics (IVA) software was preceded by a beta phase piloted at the 2013 Boston Marathon less than two months before the expanded system was rolled out at Boston Calling.
It’s no secret that the Hub has contracted with IBM on an initiative called Smarter Cities, tooled to “gather better data leveraging cameras,” since at least 2010. The administration of former Mayor Tom Menino even bragged about a $400,000 grant the Hub received from IBM in 2012 that provided “top experts to work on ways Boston can engage its citizens and more efficiently deliver municipal services.” Additionally, a press release noted that “IBM will work with the city … to draft a plan in two key areas for our residents: “traffic management,” and to foster a “healthier environment.”
In addition to those quality of life improvements and constituent service-driven projects, there also seems to be a darker side of the relationship with IBM. Namely, the tech behemoth assists Boston with comprehensive resources designed to analyze body and facial patterns, to gauge panic levels and crowd sentiment, and to scan social media. It’s not all funded by grants either; in 2013 alone, the city’s Department of Innovation and Technology spent more than $3.5 million on IBM “information technology [hardware]” and “IT solutions.”
With even more state-of-the-art surveillance infrastructure in place than at the 2013 Boston Marathon, the first Boston Calling was intended as a “proof of concept.” The “city’s expectations and success criteria” were listed in an April 2013 document generated by IBM on behalf of municipal stakeholders. They included:
- “Transportation department [monitoring].”
- “Use of cameras for monitoring/viewing.”
- “Seeing [digital video surveillance] capabilities in action.”
- “[Counting] people entering.”
- “Analytics and insights on the event.”
- “Building a more robust platform for the city for future projects.”
Reached for comment about “Face Capture” and intelligent video analysis, a Boston Police Department spokesperson wrote in an email, “BPD was not part of this initiative. We do not and have not used or possess this type of technology.” To the contrary, the documents found by the Diginclude internal photos of Boston cops observing the IBM dashboard during Boston Calling.
In response to detailed questions, Kate Norton, the press secretary for Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, wrote in an email to the Dig: “The City of Boston engaged in a pilot program with IBM, testing situational awareness software for two events hosted on City Hall Plaza: Boston Calling in May 2013, and Boston Calling in September 2013. The purpose of the pilot was to evaluate software that could make it easier for the City to host large, public events, looking at challenges such as permitting, basic services, crowd and traffic management, public safety, and citizen engagement through social media and other channels. These were technology demonstrations utilizing pre-existing hardware (cameras) and data storage systems.”
Norton also explained that “The City of Boston did not pursue long-term use of this software or enter into a contract to utilize this software on a permanent basis.” The reason? According to Norton: “From the City’s perspective, we have not seen a clear use case for this software that held practical value for the City’s public safety needs.”
Moving forward, Norton wrote that Boston officials “are still exploring options for situational awareness software, but we lack a policy guiding use of this software because we do not have any in place at this time. There are a number of challenges presented by using this type of software, including, but not limited to, infrastructure support as well as legal and privacy concerns.”
As the city develops its comprehensive policy, technologists may want to consider the policies of theCommonwealth Fusion Center, a joint intelligence venture between state, local, and federal authorities that also works with IBM. That outfit, for example, prohibits its operatives from seeking or retaining “information about individual(s) … solely on the basis of their … activities; their participation in a … lawful event; or their race [or] ethnicity.”
Meanwhile, the “People Search” feature used at Boston Calling parses individuals by “baldness,” “head color,” “skin tone,” and clothing texture. All of which is of potential concern to privacy advocates like Alex Marthews, president of the constitutional rights group Digital Fourth. Briefed on the 2013 Boston Calling plan, he told the Dig, “The city seems to have it wrong on a basic level here.”
Marthews added: “The kind of surveillance they’re talking about is not constitutional or appropriate. The government can’t take attendance for a public meeting like a schoolteacher does for a first grade class. If they are using facial recognition to identify every person in the crowd, then they obviously don’t have individualized probable cause that someone in the crowd is actually about to commit or has committed a crime.”
Over the coming weeks, the Dig will further explore the history of the Smart Cities initiative and of IBM’s relationship with Hub authorities. We’re also seeking answers in regard to where and when comparable systems will be used in the future, and about how much money Boston wasted on these questionable operations.
“They’re asserting a general police power to capture anybody’s image and process it for law enforcement purposes just in case they later turn out to be guilty of something,” said Marthews. “That’s not OK.”
PART II: SMARTER CITY OR CITY UNDER SURVEILLANCE?
(originally published 8.14.14)
Last week the Dig alerted readers to a secret experiment carried out by the City of Boston during the Boston Calling concerts that took place in May and September of last year. Among the revelations therein: Outside contractors helped municipal authorities deploy resources designed to analyze body and facial patterns of “every person who approaches the door” in order to gauge panic levels and crowd sentiment. In this follow-up, again relying in part on privileged documents that were left exposed online, we examine the communications leading up to these surveillance trials in the days, months, and even decade prior to the first Boston Calling.
Big Brother has been ogling the Hub for years. As far back as 2004, records show the existence of a Massachusetts Interagency Video Information System (MIVIS) tooled “to enhance coordination of the various public transportation and safety agencies through sharing of each agency’s surveillance video.” In preparation for the Democratic National Convention held in Boston in July of that year, a vast network of government agencies — MassHighway, Massachusetts State Police, MBTA, MassPort, Boston Transportation Department, Boston Police Department, and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency — were plugged into angles from more than 100 cameras placed everywhere from subway platforms to a state police helicopter.
Following the Democratic convention, MIVIS architects promised to foster more “agency coordination for regional events.” They had plenty of hardware to work with. In spite of the BPD and other camera-happy agencies refusing to disclose precise numbers, several media outlets have since unearthed telling pieces of the puzzle that is Boston’s surveillance state:
- Documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) show that as of 2007, the nine cities that comprise the Metro Boston Homeland Security Region had installed nearly 150 cameras using almost $6 million in federal funding.
- According to a WHDH report from 2011, the MBTA has more than 1,100 eyes in the sky.
- It’s unclear how much has been spent on cameras in total, but in 2012 the Globe reported that the MBTA would spend $6.5 million in Department of Homeland Security grants to add “thousands” more devices.
- MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo has confirmed to the press that as of 2013, “thousands” of cameras were installed and operational.
In their pursuit of new ways to track people, it’s no wonder officials teamed with the immortal tech giant IBM. They’ve been in the people-counting business for more than a century. Under its original name, Hollerith, the company’s machines were used to tally the first modern US census in 1890, while a German subsidiary of IBM sold systems during World War II that helped Hitler and the Third Reich identify their prey.
While the commonwealth is far from Nazi Germany, the use of surveillance tech in the Bay State has been for the most part done clandestinely, and seemingly in violation of constitutional protections. Furthermore, in regard to the sophisticated surveillance used at Boston Calling – a pilot program the city now claims to have since abandoned — it appears that IBM wooed Boston and its wallet at a particularly vulnerable moment, merely days after the 2013 marathon.
Since the early 2000s, IBM’s relationship with Boston and the Bay State has been increasingly metastatic, with the company leveraging various “technology partnerships.” Take, for example, its acquisition of the Canadian business management leader Cognos in 2007, and of their COPLINK crime data software that is used across the commonwealth and at two fusion centers intended to serve as conduits between federal and local crime-stoppers.
As noted in documents found by the Dig, IBM has provided key supporting hardware and software for Mass mainframes since the cloud was a pipe dream. That early ingratiation of IBM into the infrastructure powering the commonwealth and curating its information has made the company a shoo-in for lucrative contracts statewide. Between 2011 and 2014, the City of Boston alone spent more than $4 million on everything from IBM computers to licensing and maintenance contracts.
IBM has been incrementally installing itself here since John Kerry got the Democratic nomination. In 2004 the company donated $2 million to the DNC Host Committee in Boston, effectively seeding a private-public strategy in which they are a critical contracting pivot. It’s a common corporate practice: Nurture civic initiatives that place IBM delegates in city halls and capitals across the country, and establish prime position with municipal buyers.
In March 2012, Boston became one of 33 recipients of a “Smarter Cities Challenge” grantfrom IBM. Said to be worth $400,000, the incentive, according to a corporate press release, was “part of IBM’s citizenship efforts to build a Smarter Planet.” To that end the company dispatched “a team of six IBM experts” to “deliver recommendations … [to] help achieve Boston’s climate and traffic improvement goals by unlocking, sharing and analyzing transportation data.”
During a three-week analysis in which Boston made its vast trove of data available to contractors, the aforementioned media release claimed the IBM team developed an “initial prototype.” They then used that model to persuade the Menino administration to re-purpose surveillance hardware that was already in place. Namely, IBM warned that information “currently is not shared, and often is not recorded or analyzed.” “Therefore,” the experts determined, “camera data is not fully leveraged.”
Heading the IBM fan club at City Hall through this courtship was Bill Oates, who served as Boston’s Chief Information Officer from 2006 until this past January. During both the corporate consultation period and both weekends of the smart surveillance exercise at Boston Calling, Oates generously flanked his contracted collaborators, boasting to reporters in March 2013 about the Smarter Cities “partnership between the private sector, academia and cities.”
The promo tour continued. That same month Oates spoke at an IBM conference in Las Vegas, where he extolled Boston’s deep engagement with emerging tech. The CIO also gushed in an online ad for Smarter Cities in which he echoes language from the IBM sales pitch. “Our starting point was to identify the important data and unlock it,” Oates says in the video, “How Software is Making Boston Smarter.” “Every project that we work on, we’re really thinking about the impact it’s going to have on the constituent.”
At symposiums and in press releases, Oates toasted universally appreciated innovations like “improving traffic and greening our city.” But as documents found by the Dig reveal, in the first few months of 2013, Boston was also piloting a new smart surveillance program with IBM. Though the Menino administration had offered few clues to the public up to that point about the video forensic aspects of Smarter Cities, on the morning of the 2013 Boston Marathon Oates told the trade publication Information Week that the annual foot race would help officials “get a sense of what the [Smarter Cities] system is going to show us, so we can look at leveraging how to improve our coordination of events.” The CIO additionally plugged the program on an IBM blog. In a post from early Marathon Monday that vanished after two bombs detonated near the finish line, Oates wrote, “It’s the city’s job to make sure all goes according to plan.”
Though surveillance footage was used in part to identify two suspects in the aftermath of the April 15 bombing, IBM’s smart video analysis bore no fruit in the investigation. It had only been a beta test, and the advanced facial recognition resources had not been made available to first responders by the finish line.
Whereas some may have interpreted it a failure of the real-time video tech in trial, IBM saw opportunity. Records found by the Dig show that an employee of the company met with city officials on the day after the marathon, and at least two additional times over the following two weeks.
In the months prior, Boston had already been developing what IBM calls an Intelligent Operations Center (IOC), basically a centralized surveillance hub for “crowd management,” among other purposes, many of which are notably less concerning.
Post-bombing correspondence between IBM employees and municipal officials shows ambitious contractors suggesting the city incorporate “more data feeds” in an IOC “on steroids.” Docs also show the tactics they used to “monitor panic” through social media. The stated objective for the city’s Department of Innovation & Technology: “show other departments … this is what [they] can do,” and build “a more robust platform … for future projects.”
In helping Boston smarten up, IBM has bedded-down with several partners, augmenting significant deals of its own. In the six months following the 2013 marathon, public records show that Oates’s department spent nearly $500,000 on IBM contracts, plus fattened other collaborators. In one instance, on June 23 of that year the city cut a $158,400 check to an Andover, Massachusetts company that teams with IBM and Boston on intelligent surveillance.
TALE OF THE TAPE
When the Smarter Cities initiative first arrived in Boston, there was talk of privacy considerations. AJanuary 2013 report generated by IBM experts noted the importance of ensuring “that reasonable security and privacy policies, procedures and controls are incorporated in data sharing, especially for personally identifiable information.”
Good intentions aside, in the media blitz between Boston Calling events, IBM and Oates seemingly steered clear of any talk about civil liberties. In a September 2013 press release applauding the success of Smart Cities, the CIO mentioned functions such as “reducing traffic congestion or avoiding conflicts such as roadway maintenance near a busy event.” As for all the data collected, Oates told the Boston Globe, “We have no intention of turning these things over to a company.”
As the Dig discovered and initially reported last week, IBM contractors did in fact store surveillance footage and metadata. At the time of this writing, much of it still remains vulnerable in an obscure corner of the internet. Like security around the secret project, the implementation itself also appears to have been lackluster. A spokesperson for the current mayoral administration of Marty Walsh wrote in an email to the Dig: “The City of Boston did not pursue long-term use of this software or enter into a contract to utilize this software on a permanent basis” due to a lack of “practical value for the City’s public safety needs.”
Meanwhile, with Oates spreading the Smart Cities gospel at conferences from Philadelphia to Vegas — and now, presumably, as the CIO of the entire commonwealth, where he took charge in January — IBM is using Boston as a model in its pitch to other cities. At an August 2013 talk to municipal leaders in Florida, Cate Richards, IBM’s North America Smarter Cities Leader, explained how “the decision to expand deployment [and] testing continued immediately” after the marathon bombing. In a presentation that could have passed for the plan outlined for Boston in 2012, the strategist proposed to enhance “the success and safety of public events,” to “leverage cross-agency data,” and to “anticipate problems and provide actionable intelligence.”
In their response to the Dig’s questions, as well as to WBUR in follow-up coverage, the city confirmed that Boston is still exploring options to develop “situational awareness software.” That and all of the above considered, in the coming weeks we will be working to identify what technological direction the commonwealth and its metropolitan regions are heading in, and to ascertain if civil liberties are being violated in the process. Like Oates said at an IBM-sponsored forum at Boston University the month before the bombing, “We’ve only scratched the surface here in Boston.”
PART III: THE FUTURE OF PRE-CRIME IN THE COMMONWEALTH
(originally published 9.9.14)
For this third installment of our Boston Trolling series on information and surveillance, we’ve done some of our own data collection—of every available bellwether and indicator, positive and negative, that points forward. Some questions we considered: As the police state expands, are there adequate safeguards in place? Or for the sake of innovation and presumed security is our whole state, from every overzealous board of selectmen to the spineless bureaucrats on Beacon Hill, doomed to embrace elaborate tripwire systems that prowl for so-called “pre-crime?”
This past August should forever be recognized as a milestone moment in Hub history. Not only because the relatively new administration of Mayor Marty Walsh hosted an event touted as “Boston’s First Civic Minded Hackathon,” but because the brave creatives who attended the inaugural HubHacks pooled their talents toward tackling debilitating issues that should probably have been addressed when Kevin White was in office.
With more than 50 volunteer coders foregoing a spectacularly sunny weekend to work inside District Hall across from the enticing South Boston waterfront, the city’s Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT) didn’t ask participants to fix low priority problems or build novelty apps. Instead, the DoIT’s Chief Information Officer (CIO) Jascha Franklin-Hodge challenged the group to solve fundamental operations nightmares that the city actually struggles with. Namely, Boston lacks a streamlined permitting process for new businesses and, unbelievable as it sounds, maintains a property database that’s so dysfunctional it neither correlates to post office addresses nor the designations used by utility companies.
To their credit, members of the mayor’s crew shared a harsh and deprecating video they produced with interviews of business owners hammering the system for its bureaucratic asininity. In his turn, the mayor praised the “new tone” city tech administrators are taking, while Franklin-Hodge extolled the real-time progress metrics that help Walsh steer the ship. The optimistic CIO gave only one caveat before officially commencing the data orgy: “Technology,” he said, “is never a solution in and of itself.”
Weeks later, in a statement to the Dig about upcoming developments in city surveillance, a mayoral spokesperson reiterated that sentiment in different terms: “We know that innovation isn’t just about putting shiny toys in our departments, but rather is about identifying a need and finding the right technology to fill the void responsibly … and to retain data securely for the people we serve.”
Prior revelations considered, that’s a new mantra for Boston, and it should come as a relief.
Even with so many positive advancements and public-private partnerships in stride, critics claim that hyperactive innovation hamlets can harbor a sinister side. Take Massachusetts. Though the Bay State rides the cutting edge of life-saving biotech, it’s also home to companies like the Pittsfield-based Lenco Industries, which manufactures the gargantuan urban street tanks that attracted so much ire in Missouri last month. The list of local players in high-tech security is long, from the South Boston-based BioCatch, a “global leader in behavioral biometric authentication and threat detection,” to the Google-owned Boston Dynamics, which spawns humanoid and predatory robots for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
As the Dig reported last month, in 2013 IBM supplied the Hub with state-of-the-art “smart surveillance” that targeted “anyone who [walked] through the door” at the Boston Calling music festivals that May and September (the company has claimed otherwise, though documents obtained by the Dig paint a different picture). But on a greater scale, sophisticated new spy instruments comprise but a piddling note in a statewide symphony of surveillance orchestrated over decades, and that looms everywhere from street corners to school yards. As such, in impugning certain innovations, bright and dark alike, we examined four years worth of technological expenditures at the state level. We may not have proprietary prying eyes in the sky, but you don’t need a camera to see which businesses are likely to partner with Mass and its municipalities in the near future.
People who attended the end-of-summer Boston Calling this past weekend may be relieved to know the city didn’t leverage the same “Face Capture” technology the Dig reported was used at the concert series last year. According to a mayoral spokesperson, the Hub “did not pursue long-term use of [the IBM] software or enter into a contract to utilize this software on a permanent basis” due to a lack of “practical value for the City’s public safety needs.”
At the same time, though IBM has a footprint stretching from the Berkshires to Barnstable, the company is only one of many angling for business as authorities across the state explore software that’s intended to detect bad behavior. Following the bombing of the 2013 Boston Marathon, the MBTA licensed a new product called AISight (pronounced: “eyesight”), or Artificial Intelligence for Smart Cities. A flagship of the Texas-based BRS Labs, short for Behavioral Recognition Systems, AISight provides smart surveillance on the cheap. According to the tech industry trade site ITProPortal, the system “is extremely easy to implement even across huge, disparate networks of outdated camera equipment,” and autonomously culls “an ever-changing knowledge base of activity seen through every camera on your video network.”
Low price and accessibility have made BRS an economic success, with the company recentlyannouncing plans to go public. Among the marquee accomplishments fueling such significant growth: deployment in Brazil during the last World Cup, and at this year’s Boston Marathon. State records show that in December 2013, the MBTA security department purchased $200,000 worth of “signal material and equipment” from BRS. Similar expenditures over the past two years include:
Nearly $300,000 in MBTA security spending to the Quincy-based FTG Technologies, which services video surveillance and IP solutions.
$22,725 to VidSys, which provides software “used to run operations centers for public sector agencies.” With a commonwealth branch in Marlborough, the Virginia-born company helps “instantly [correlate] vast amounts of data gathered from any number or virtually any type, brand or generation of physical security system or sensor.”
$1.6 million to Minuteman Security Technologies in Andover for police “equipment and supplies.” Their specialty: “providing real-time monitoring of a facility’s environment, people, and assets as well as by recording events for subsequent investigation, proof of compliance, and audit.”
You might be familiar with concepts like these, tooled to root out crime preemptively, from the short story and movie Minority Report, or the conspiratorial CBS drama “Person of Interest.” The phenomenon is no longer a mere science fiction fascination. State officials may be less than forthcoming about their use of surveillance tech, but BRS President John Frazzini, a former U.S. Secret Service agent, shares his business goals openly. “Catching these events before they happen,” he told the “Today Show” in 2013, “is the name of the game.”
ALPHA BETA TESTING
Three months ago, a national network known as the Privacy Coalition penned a letter, co-signed by 32 organizations that advocate for civil liberties, to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. In it they urged the Department of Justice “to quickly complete an updated Privacy Impact Assessment for the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Next Generation Identification System (NGI).” In short: They want to know what federal researchers are doing with the endless stream of data they collect through innumerable access points.
“There’s no evidence that these technologies will ever stop terrorism or, frankly, would have stopped the marathon bombing,” says Kade Crockford, director of the ACLU of Massachusetts Technology for Liberty Project. She adds: “The focus on spending millions of dollars in secret to install these back-end camera analytics systems is all taking place not only without public debate, but without demonstrations by the vendors showing what they actually do. For all we know, these may be very good for helping the government control dissent, or for targeting people for things like low-level drug arrests in a crowd.”
With thousands of cameras and countless hours of archival footage, the ultimate goal for governments is seemingly to tap Big Data for the purpose of identifying targets through space and time. In Massachusetts, officials have already live-tested several such analysis products on an unknowing public. The deployment of surveillance linked to facial recognition and crowd monitoring is hugely different from, say, scanning raw footage of the Tsarnaev brothers and cross-referencing similarities against databases. IBM’s Smart Surveillance Engine (SSE) that was used at Boston Calling records skin, hair, body, and clothing colors, and helps compile and analyze that data over prolonged periods.
IBM has conceded that its software isn’t perfect; last year the company noted that hats, masks, and sunglasses can still cause facial recognition to fail. Yet despite shortcomings, Massachusetts state officials have propped these costly measures since before the marathon bombing. In 2010, then-BPD Deputy Superintendent William Casey lectured about artificial intelligence at the annualBiometric Consortium Conference, held that year in Tampa. His message: “Advances in biometric capabilities in the next decade will bring additional tools to law enforcement that promise improvements in crime solving and, more importantly, crime prevention.”
BIG BLUE BROTHER
IBM is a fixture in the commonwealth, if not a constant. In addition to servicing more than $65 million worth of state contracts since 2010, the company’s executives are intricately wired into the political establishment. According to the office of Secretary of State William Galvin, IBM’s most active lobbyist in Massachusetts was paid $30,000 in the first half of this year alone to flank “information technology or any other matter concerning IBM’s business” on Beacon Hill.
From Boston’s schools, to its police force, to the “Intelligent Operations Center” that kept tabs on oblivious concert-goers, the fingerprints of IBM are everywhere. None of which should be surprising since the company has worked tirelessly to nurture and maintain government relationships. In their efforts to ingratiate proprietary systems with the civic interest, IBM Corporate Community Relations Manager Maura Banta has had an especially enduring presence. A company woman since 1973, she has served on advisory boards for entities including the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Mass Taxpayers Foundation, and the Mass Business Alliance for Education.
On the electoral side, Banta is a backer of Deval Patrick, having personally donated $625 to the governor since 2010. Other IBM employees and executives did similarly, giving Patrick nearly $9,000 in total, plus thousands more to the Massachusetts Democratic Party State Committee. On the administrative side, IBM also has apparent inroads to Tony Parham, the commonwealth’s government innovation officer (GIO) since 2012. Parham worked as a program director of Software Group (SWG) at IBM from 2000 to 2005, is a founding co-chair of the company’s Massachusetts Diversity Council, and still operates a management consulting firm that lists IBM as a client.
In many cases, IBM’s aggressive sales and government relations efforts straddle several sectors—security and schools, management and monitoring, and so on. Tending to their education piece, in a2012 post on a company blog, Banta boasted about work with Massachusetts school partners on “quality rating systems,” “infrastructure support,” and the implementation of a suite of classroom products. A few months later, a company report produced for the administration of Mayor Tom Menino noted that “departments, such as police, libraries and schools … have video cameras,” but that “information is not shared,” while “the data is intended for human consumption, not digital processing.”
You can never have too much intelligent surveillance. As IBM General Manager Michael Dixon said in a promotional video for their hallmark Smarter Cities initiative, it’s not like the old days when “those that needed to be watched were in a jail.” Makes sense. If you’re identifying perps before they even commit crimes, let alone get charged, convicted, and incarcerated, then nothing less than the entire public has profound penal potential.
It’s not necessarily a doomsday scenario. As showcased at the city’s aforementioned hackathon last month, Boston’s current tech squad—flanked by the award-winning Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics—is making a serious effort to innovate on a tight budget. At the District Hall event, one DoIT associate noted, “It’s really cheap to fail fast.”
Things move slower at the state level, where countless entrenched contractors are still feasting. It’s a tradition. In the case of the Canadian business intelligence company Cognos, the commonwealth extended annual contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars even after a lobbyist for their software was found to have violated open bidding rules. The headline case landed then-Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives Sal DiMasi in federal prison, but Cognos was spared after IBM acquired it as a subsidiary in 2007.
While the Big Blue Grey Lady remains dominant, and did nearly twice as much business with the commonwealth last fiscal year than in 2011, IBM can count on mounting competition—especially on smart surveillance. Smaller companies have boots on the ground too. In the case of the Andover-based Minuteman, last year the self-described “enterprise security leader” paid a Boston firm $48,000 for representation on Beacon Hill. The face of their lobbying: a former chief legal counsel to the state Senate Committee on Ways and Means, and a former state senator.
“The surveillance industry isn’t just burgeoning, it’s vibrant,” says Crockford of the ACLU. “And once these industries have enough money, they’re able to pay for lobbying to ensure that they get huge government contracts. It’s difficult to roll back the surveillance state that they profit off of when our political system is driven by campaign contributions and lobbyists who endorse this atmosphere.”
Crockford continues: “The people who really lose out here, time and again, are taxpayers who want to live and participate in a free society.”