Rumor: Secret Service agents getting bionic ears

Agency shopping around for camouflaged sensors to detect gunshots amid cacophony at large events


CONFIRMED: The Secret Service is seeking gunshot-detection technologies

According to a report in Mashable, the Department of Homeland Security/United States Secret Service issued a Request for Information document inquiring about "commercially available gunshot detection technologies for fixed site surveillance applications."

Special events such as Monday's presidential inauguration and the Super Bowl rely on high-tech monitors such as city traffic cameras and facial recognition tools. The Secret Service is asking retailers if their gunfire-detection units could be "integrated to communicate with other detection systems" such as those, Mashable reported.

The agency would assume sole control over the surveillance system, Mashable said, rather than let private analysts provide assessments, as nearly 70 cities such as Chicago, Oakland and Milwaukee have begun doing. ShotSpotter is the gunshot detection system widely used in those cities.

ShotSpotter devices "triangulate sound picked up by acoustic sensors placed on buildings, utility poles and other structures" and have the capability of pinpointing gunfire seconds after it occurs, the New York Times reported.

ShotSpotter systems (see images here) are clearly visible on those structures, a detail that the Secret Service clearly wants to avoid. In the RFI, the agency is pursuing technologies that are "easily concealable" or could "aesthetically match their surroundings."

Shot detectors have inspired debate over privacy and the reach of police surveillance. In New Bedford, Mass., sensors recorded a loud street argument that accompanied a fatal shooting last month, according to the New York Times. But ShotSpotter officials told the Times that privacy concerns are generally unfounded because the detectors "don't turn on unless they hear a gunshot."



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