System Hopes to Identify Walks
Monday May 19, 2003 9:09 PM
Pentagon system hopes to identify walks
Pentagon anti-terror surveillance system hopes to identify people by the way
By MICHAEL J. SNIFFEN
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) Watch your step! The Pentagon is developing a radar-based device
that can identify people by the way they walk, for use in a new antiterrorist surveillance system.
Operating on the theory that an individual's
walk is as unique as a signature, the Pentagon has financed a research project at the Georgia Institute of Technology that
has been 80 to 95 percent successful in identifying people.
If the Defense Advanced Research Projects
Agency, or DARPA, orders a prototype, the individual ``gait signatures'' of people could become part of the data to be linked
together in a vast surveillance system the Pentagon agency calls Total Information Awareness.
That system already has raised privacy alarms
on both ends of the political spectrum, and Congress in February barred its use against American citizens without further
Nevertheless, government documents reviewed
by The Associated Press show that scores of major defense contractors and prominent universities applied last year for the
first research contracts to design and build the surveillance and analysis system.
DARPA is the federal agency that helped
develop the Internet as a research tool for universities and government contractors. Its newest project is massive by any
In its advice to contractors, DARPA declared,
``The amounts of data that will need to be stored and accessed will be unprecedented, measured in petabytes.''
One petabyte would dwarf most existing databases;
it's roughly equal to 50 times the Library of Congress, which holds more than 18 million books.
Conceived and managed by retired Adm. John
Poindexter, the TIA surveillance system is based on his theory that ``terrorists must engage in certain transactions to coordinate
and conduct attacks against Americans, and these transactions form patterns that may be detectable.''
DARPA said the goal is to draw conclusions
and predictions about terrorists from databases that record such transactions as passport applications, visas, work permits,
driver's licenses, car rentals, airline ticket purchases, arrests or reports of suspicious activities.
Other databases DARPA wants to access include
financial, education, medical and housing records and biometric identification databases based on fingerprints, irises, facial
shapes and gait.
TIA is an effort to design breakthrough
software ``for treating these databases as a virtual, centralized grand database'' capable of being quickly mined by counterintelligence
officers even though the data will be held in many places, many languages and many formats, DARPA documents say.
One goal is to provide ``focused warnings
within an hour after a triggering event occurs,'' the documents say.
Poindexter's plan would integrate some projects
DARPA has been working on for several years, including research headed by Gene Greneker at Georgia Tech.
At a cost of less than $1 million over the
past three years, he has been aiming a 1-foot-square radar dish at 100 test volunteers to record how they walk. Elsewhere
at Georgia Tech, DARPA is funding other researchers to use video cameras and computers to try to develop distinctive gait
``One of the nice things about radar is
we see through bad weather, darkness, even a heavy robe shrouding the legs, and video cameras can't,'' Greneker said in an
interview. ``At 600 feet we can do quite well.''
And the target doesn't have to be doing
a Michael Jackson moonwalk to be distinctive because the radar detects small frequency shifts in the reflected signal off
legs, arms and the torso as they move in a combination of different speeds and directions.
``There's a signature that's somewhat unique
to the individual,'' Greneker said. ``We've demonstrated proof of this concept.''
The researchers are anticipating ways the
system might be fooled.
``A woman switching from flats to high heels
probably wouldn't change her signature significantly,'' Greneker said. ``But if she switched to combat boots, that might have
The system could be used by embassy security
officers to conclude that a shadowy figure observed a few hundred feet away at night or in heavy clothing on a Monday, Wednesday
and Friday was the same person and should be investigated further to see if he was casing the building for an attack, Greneker
At a restricted facility, the technology
could warn security officers that an approaching person was probably not an employee by comparing his gait with those on file.
``And we now know how to detect people who are carrying heavy packages, which could include a 25-pound bomb in a backpack,''
Greneker hasn't gotten caught up in the
privacy debate. ``We are research and development people. We think about what's possible, not what the government will do
with it. That's somebody else's job. And this isn't a weapons system.''
DARPA contracting records made available
through a Freedom of Information lawsuit filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a privacy advocacy group, show
Poindexter agreed to fund 26 research projects and rejected 154 others through last Dec. 4. Other DARPA contract award data
were released under FOIA to the Center for Public Integrity, an ethics advocacy group.
One of the largest was a contract for up
to $27 million to Veridian Systems Division of Arlington, Va., to design software to allow ``intelligence analysts and decision
makers to jointly participate in the development of a full range of contingencies.''