STERLING, VA. -- A high-technology innovation in the battle against terrorism is a chilling reminder of the world depicted in "1984".
In George Orwell's vision of the future, Big Brother was the all-seeing electronic eye that spied on the unfortunate wretches who lived in a nightmarish world of repression, fear and hatred.
Now, Big Brother's unblinking electric eye is a technological reality. He has the ability to recognize you and, it appears, he will soon be watching you.
He will see you as you walk through bus and train stations, enter airports and board planes. He will be watching and, in some cases, identifying who you are, as you stand in crowds to see the president and other leaders.
Big Brother, in this case, is a surveillance system being launched this summer by Speciality Marketing Concepts Inc., located in Sterling.
The system uses the latest developments in tele-imaging, laser disc storage, satellite transmissions, miniature high-resolution cameras and digital technology. It is designed to identify known terrorists in seconds.
And, said SMC President William Raub, it works.
"What we have is a program designed to find people who don't want to be found," Raub said.
How does it work?
Raub did not want to reveal some of the technical details. But the surveillance system uses a small, relatively inexpensive Panasonic camera that can be installed easily in public places.
The cameras -- small enough to hold in a hand and good enough to adjust to any level of light -- could be placed on airplanes, for example, so that passengers' pictures would be taken as they sit in their seats.
The image of every passenger would be transmitted instantaneously by microwave, satellite technology or other means to a security agency computer that would determine if any faces match those of known terrorists.
If a terrorist is detected, the computer would alert authorities to the danger. It would trigger a printout -- received, in this case, by the jetliner pilot -- detailing the identity of the terrorist and his history.
The faces of 120,000 terrorist suspects could be programmed onto one laser disc.
Disguises would not help a terrorist, Raub said, because the process is determined by facial structure. A beard, an eye patch, a shaved head, facial expressions would not prevent the system from identifying an individual.
There is little chance the system would mistake one individual for another, Raub said, because everybody's facial structure is different.
"Only major plastic surgery would make enough of a difference" to throw the electronic eye off, he added.
"There's no limit to what you could do with this system," said Raub.
Secret Service agents could scan a crowd with the system. The briefest contact with a face programmed onto the control laser disc would trigger a warning.
The system also could be used in the battle against domestic crime. The cameras could be installed in bank lobbies, stores and other places that might be robbed. If a previously identified criminal walked in, authorities would know about it.
"The first application is to fight terrorism," said Raub.
"The second step will probably be to help find missing children."
The technology is so advanced, he said, that the computer would be able to identify children who had aged years beyond the pictures used by the system.
The key to marketing the system is that all the hardware -- the cameras, the tele-imaging hardware, the communications equipment -- now can be purchased easily on the market.
"It's all on the shelf."
Raub said interest in the system is intense. He's had inquiries from several Mideast countries, the U.S. Defense Department and from aircraft manufacturers.
Raub's company is talking to the government about compiling the faces of terrorist suspects, and he said the system could be operating in a matter of month