When cellular telecom services began rolling out on a wide scale, many microwave companies downplayed their defense heritage as they jockeyed for a position in the expanding commercial market. As the growth in communications dipped and then hit a plateau, however, microwave firms realized how fortunate they were that some of their business remained in military technologies. Following September 11, 2001, the call for military solutions grew while a need for homeland-defense-related technologies emerged. The microwave industry now provides military and homeland-defense solutions, which increasingly drill down to the individual with applications like the "eyes in the sky" of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and the gathering of biometric data. Although the intent of such solutions is to detect threats and protect people, they leave many questioning whether the US has traded its citizens' privacy for security.
Thanks to a partnership between Mundus Group, Inc. and AirStar, for example, UAV operators have the ability to focus on license-plate-size objects and track moving or fixed objects in flight. At the same time, they can relay Global Positioning System (GPS) pinpoint-accuracy coordinates. Essentially, AirStar's UAV Aerial Surveillance packages are being combined with training courses and technology that allow autonomous flight for stealth operation at 100 to 7500 ft. above city attractions, busy intersections, airports, beaches, and events while providing highdefinition, real-time video to laptops and monitors anywhere.
Aside from an increasing amount of camera and video surveillance, different agencies are collecting more personal data. For instance, digital fingerprints are being collected from non-US citizens departing the US as part of a pilot program at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport. Within the next year, biometric-exit procedures based on these pilot programs should be implemented for all non-US citizens leaving the country.
Whether these surveillance and data-collection solutions have an RF core or leverage microwave technology to communicate their findings, they are providing exciting application areas for this industry. Yet they are leaving some citizens concerned about their privacy. Many have pointed out the risks involved in having such technology so widely available. For example, could potential terrorists get access to UAVs that allow them to see target sites in detail? What about the possible risk of having high-resolution satellite images available of national monuments, arenas, nuclear plants, and more such as those provided by GoogleEarth?
No one is arguing the need to safeguard our country. To guarantee increased security, however, many are not willing to trade their personal freedomsor put them at risk. As surveillance capabilities become widespread and the collection of personal data becomes commonplace, federal agencies must guard this technology and data so that it does not fall into the wrong hands.