FAQ

ORGANIZATION & OBJECTIVES

Who is PSS


Persistent Surveillance Systems is led by Dr. Ross McNutt who earned his PhD from MIT in a program aimed at bringing technological solutions to difficult social problems. Dr. McNutt is the sole owner of the company and does not have outside investors.




Where did this technology come from?


Then Lt. Col. McNutt built this novel technology while in the U.S. Air Force during his tenure running the Air Force Center for Rapid Product Development. He was tasked with helping to mitigate the impacts of Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) on U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians in 2004. By 2006, Lt. Col. McNutt had led a team to develop this revolutionary system that imaged a city and enabled analysts to locate those planting bombs by following their pre- and post-activities. The system was deployed to Iraq in 2007 and Afghanistan in 2010, and the resulting data saved countless lives. In 2007 Lt. Col. McNutt retired but felt that the system had the potential to help people within troubled U.S. cities. Since then, he has been working tirelessly to develop an affordable system with appropriate privacy protections in place to support U.S. citizens. For more information, see our History page.




What is it that you do?


In the United States, this system has been used in short term operations in Philadelphia, PA, Baltimore, MD, Charlotte, N.C., Compton, CA, and Dayton, OH. The program has also supported disaster relief operations following Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Matthew, and boarder security operations in Nogales Arizona. Internationally, this technology system has operated in Juarez, Torreon, and Mexicali Mexico, and in Kampala Uganda. Previous versions of the program operated in Fallujah and Ramadi Iraq, and Kabul Afghanistan supporting the U.S. Military.




What other business or contracts does PSS administer, currently?


PSS and its related companies support a significant number of contracts to support various civil, military, and corporate organizations but those efforts are separate and distinct from the Community Support Program and its affiliated operations and data. PSS and its associated companies run a major Air Force flight training program supporting Air Force Flight Doctors, as well as developmental flight testing for the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). PSS uses its profits from these efforts to help support troubled cities through its subsidiary, the Community Support Program (CSP).





CONSITITUTIONALITY & PRIVACY

Is it legal?


In the U.S., airborne imagery has been used by law enforcement and other organizations for more than 50 years. Many cities currently use helicopters to assist officers and detectives to solve crimes. Our aerial imagery is no different. There are three Supreme Court level decisions that outline the law associated with aerial surveillance. In each case, the use of airborne data for law enforcement has been upheld to be legal and admissible in court. International laws may vary.




Can it be used in court?


Yes, the information we provide can be used in court. The information we provide is just one small part of a court proceedings and it is combined with witnesses, forensic evidence, and other information depending on the type of investigation. International laws may vary.




Can someone be convicted off just the data you provide?


It is very unlikely someone would be convicted based of our data alone. We provide leads where often few are available. For example, if we follow an unidentified person from a shooting to an address police may be able to connect it to an individual who then may match witness statements and other available information. Additionally, if there is sufficient evidence a search warrant could be obtained. In the house you may find the gun, the clothes with gunpowder residue, and hopefully the people involved. It is likely the strong forensic evidence that will lead to the conviction or the plea bargain not the fact that the person was tracked in our imagery.




Does this invade my privacy? Is it constitutional?


We have worked closely with advice and feedback from the ACLU to develop a program that protects everyone’s privacy while being effective at protecting their life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness during all PSS operations. PSS has spent 14 years working on policies and procedures, protection systems, and auditing and tracking systems to ensure that our analysts look only when and where they are allowed to and nowhere else. Auditing and tracking systems were built to allow outside and independent organizations to review and verify that PSS does not violate individual privacy.




What privacy protections do you have?


PSS has developed a strict and comprehensive privacy policy that controls and limits what analysts can look at and the information we can provide. The protecting individual privacy is not only part of the contract with our supported cities, but also a central part of our company ethos. The policy lays out what events we can and can’t support, and it was developed with input from a wide range of sources including local police departments, local community groups, State and National ACLU, and many others. We have presented our program and policies at the Headquarters of the National ACLU and at some of their sponsored conferences. While I can say they have not always been fun, we have answered all of their questions and have been open about what we do and how we do it. Our privacy policy is the result of all the input we have received and adapts as we continue to achieve best practices. Some of our privacy protocols include: Limited imagery access to only areas in support of investigations outlined in each contract, An explicit and documented process used to initiate an investigation which is reviewed and audited, Recorded and reviewed logs of all imagery access, tracks, and track comments to ensure that only authorized places in support of authorized investigations are viewed, and, Internal and external audit processes, groups, and tools in place to ensure privacy policy is strictly adhered to and verified independently.




How is the data secured and can someone get into it?


Our systems are secured by several ways. First, they are maintained in a secure location. We have cameras and other security systems that ensure that only authorized personnel have access to the imagery. Analysts sign-in to our systems using usernames and passwords and ID cards. Once in the system, the server records where the analysts have looked within the imagery and what investigations they have worked on. All tracks are recorded on the server and are reviewable by management to ensure that they are associated with the investigation the analysts was assigned, and that no unlawful access of imagery has been performed. The backup data is also maintained on disc drives stored in secure safes.




How can you tell if people look at places where they are not supposed to?


A central server maintains our imagery and it records where each analyst has looked every time it is accessed, and it is unique to each analysts’ credentials. All of the access data is reviewed by management routinely, and outside oversight as often as necessary. If any unlawful use is found that analyst is terminated.




Who has access to the data?


PSS analysts, IT staff, and senior operations staff are the only ones with access to the imagery data. All personnel undergo a rigorous training program that not only teaches them how to use the systems, but how to report data factually in accordance with our privacy policy and commitment to the truth. All access of imagery is recording by login credentials.




How long do you keep the data?


Typically, collected imagery is stored on an image server and made available for investigations for up to 45 days. After 45 days the police department must obtain a warrant to support new investigations contained in the imagery but not prior requested or investigated. The imagery data is maintained for 180 days in order to support request from defense attorneys and public defenders prior to deletion. Data not used to support investigations or defense efforts are deleted at the 180 day point and the discs are recycled to support newly collected data. For images that support investigations, they are maintained in a secure manner to ensure that they are available to support discover, defense and prosecution support, and appeal support until all potential legal actions are complete. Images are removed from the server and stored in a secure top secret qualified safe. Logs are maintained for all access to the data and the reasons for the access.




What is done with the data?


The information developed from imagery analysis is briefed to detectives, prosecutors, defense attorneys, courts, and other clients as needed to support operations and investigations.




Can you identify people?


In the U.S. and specifically in support of Law Enforcement, PSS systems alone cannot identify people. People are a single pixel meaning analysts cannot tell anything identifying about a person from PSS imagery. Analysts cannot determine if a particular dot is a man, woman or child, how they are dressed, the color of their skin, or any other characteristic. What analysts are tracking is the movement of that pixel or dot, and tracking them to gather data whether that be associated addresses, locations for specific ground-cameras that may have imagery, where they may have ditched a vehicle or other evidence, or potentially where they are in real-time operations.
The PSS cameras are 192- or 495-megapixels each, but those large number of pixels have to cover a very large area limiting the resolution of each person to just 1 pixel. Limiting the resolution to 1 pixel per-person allows PSS to cover up to 45 square miles per image and capture more imagery in support of operations. It is far more important to PSS operations to observe a larger area because it allows for tracks to cover a longer distance, allowing for more data.




If you cannot identify people what good is it and how is it used in criminal investigations?


While analysts cannot identify people solely bases on PSS imagery, we can track them to and from crime scenes. Tracking a person from a crime scene to a vehicle and then tracking a vehicle to an address provides useful information to an investigator. It can also help to prove who was in a vehicle when a crime occurred, if they picked someone up or dropped someone off, and where those activities took place. The imagery can also provide an overview of the number of vehicles and people at the scene. This allows corroboration of witness statements and other information from the crime scene. As we tack a vehicle, it often passes several ground-based cameras allowing an identification of the make and model and often a license plate. The more data that is collected about the movements of a particular track, the more quickly investigators can put the puzzle pieces together.





UNLAWFUL USES

Does it track citizens’ every move?


No. PSS only tracks in line with each specific contract. For example, if it is a criminal investigation, PSS will only track people at the crime scene, or via court order, those suspected to be involved in a crime, potentially those associated with them, or associated addresses. But if, for example, PSS is assisting in disaster relief coordination, all individuals within the imagery might be identified for rescue purposes only, and not tracked further than those efforts require.




Can you look at me in my backyard?


PSS is committed to protecting individual privacy, but the short answer is yes. If your backyard, for example, is a crime scene or near one, or in the path of a natural disaster, the analysts will be able to see your backyard. But unless the crime was committed there, or associated individuals enter your residence, analysts will not be looking at you, your house, or tracking your movements. If you are in the backyard at the time, analysts will not be able to tell anything about you or what you are doing. People are a single pixel or just a dot and it is not possible to distinguish any personally identifying information.




Do you follow people from protests? Does your system threaten the right to peaceful assembly?


CSP believes in freedom of speech and the right to protest; therefore, analysts are not allowed to view the activity of any protests or peaceful assembly. Our privacy policy is very clear in its explicit prohibition to use the system in this situation.




What if a crime is committed?


If protests become violent and crimes are committed, CSP requires a court ordered arrant authorizing analyst to access that imagery to support investigations of specific crimes. This limitation is enforced by both internal and external audits.





IMAGERY & ANALYSIS

Where do you find your analysts?


We hire locally through hiring agencies and directly and have internships and other programs available. Please see our Careers & Internships page for more information




Are the Analysts trained?


PSS has training courses to teach our analysts the skills required to support law enforcement investigations and court proceedings, and other needs of customers. These classes are up to 80 hours in length in imagery analysis alone and have been incorporated into community college courses. Skills we teach can vary based on project and contract, but include the investigative process, the role of law enforcement, the rules of evidence, systems specific skills such as video analysis, and criminal evidence collection techniques and procedures. Additionally, we also teach skills such as public speaking and briefing, and Microsoft office suites.




How long can you follow a track?


Analysts can follow a track as long as it is within our imagery. Typically, vehicles are the easiest to follow, and their tracks are much longer than a person’s. In several cases in Mexico, analysts have followed vehicles from homicides for over 5 hours. During this time, analysts were able to gather a lot of data on what turned out to be a guns-for-hire kill squad. Through the vehicle tracks, analysts were able to identify 12 specific locations of operations that aided local law enforcement in taking down a significant part of that group quickly.




Do you ever skip vehicles and follow the wrong one?


Our analysts are very good at tracking vehicles even through difficult imagery. There are times when it can be very difficult to determine which vehicle emerges from behind an obstruction, but PSS has built in protocols that are used to ensure an error is not made. For example, if a vehicle goes behind a building and our analysts cannot determine which of two emerging vehicles is the vehicle originally tracked, they will track both vehicles and include comments in the notes and in the briefing of what they did and saw. Either one, or both, of the vehicles will pass a ground-based camera and can be verified as the original vehicle which will then be continued, and the uninvolved track will be discontinued and noted as such.




Can you see vehicle crashes and figure out who is at fault?


PSS can typically see over 50-60 vehicle crashes in a day, but often will focus on the hit and runs, as they are more serious. Not only can analysts almost always determine who is at fault, they can often see the at-fault vehicle running multiple stoplights and stop signs prior to the actual accident showing a pattern of reckless behavior. In one captured accident, analysts observed a vehicle run a red light and crash into one vehicle, after which the driver of the at-fault vehicle got out and car-jacked another vehicle at gunpoint and drove off. Analysts followed the car-jacked vehicle and shortly had descriptive imagery from a ground-based camera about a mile away.




Can I hire you for personal use or private investigation?


No. We support law enforcement organizations and cities and are controlled by a strict privacy policy. Access to the imagery is limited to our analysts and they are only authorized to look at incidents allowed in the current contract.