Book Title: Homeland Security Technology Challenges
Subtitle: From Sensing and Encrypting to Mining and Modeling
Authors: Giorgio Franceschetti, Marina Grossi (eds.)
Publisher: Artech House, Norwood MA, USA
Date of Publishing: 2008
Price (UK&US price – full price, not discounted price): £64.00, $95.00
URL of Publisher Site: Artech House
URL of Amazon UK web page: Homeland Security Technology Challenges: From Sensing and Encrypting to Mining and Modeling
URL of Amazon US web page: Amazon.com
According to the preface, this book had its genesis in an international homeland security workshop held in Sorrento, Italy in 2006. We are told that five of its chapters are based on papers presented at that workshop, although it’s not clear from the text which ones these are. Indeed, the entire book is reminiscent of conference proceedings. Although all nine chapters broadly relate to the application of information technologies to homeland security and surveillance, no overall thought progression is discernible as one proceeds through the book. Instead, we have a short introductory chapter on broad homeland security concepts, seven expositions of solutions to disparate and narrowly specific technical problems, and a basic overview of the principles and terminology of IT security.Research areas covered include wireless sensing, wireless networking and communication, database management and data retrieval, optical sensing, image classification, modelling and simulation – all within the span of some 280 pages. Consequently, the presentation is extremely concentrated. Five of the chapters require degree-level mathematics and some even require a comparable level of competence in physics or computer science. So, this is not light reading for the interested bystander, rather more readily a reference for the specialist. However, considering the rate of progress in the field, some three years on from publication, it’s unlikely that the content is entirely current; books of this highly technical nature unavoidably become obsolescent very quickly.Nevertheless, for the lesser-than-specialist professional who can meet its prerequisites, some of the research discussed remains of significant interest, so the book still has merit despite its age and somewhat arbitrary range of content. For example, Chapter 6 – Private Information Retrieval… – presents a formal (albeit substantially mathematical) demonstration of an optimised method for extracting information from a database, while concealing from the database the nature of the specific information sought. In addition to its potential for surveillance, possible application to online database user privacy is intriguing although not identified by the authors. Chapter 7 – Tapping Vehicle Sensors… – is a description of the architecture and performance of a simulated opportunistic ad-hoc network of vehicle-mounted sensors for urban surveillance. Although it’s not clear whether the network was physically implemented or tested in the field, the principles this paper discusses could prove relevant to urban micro-cell networking problems in spheres other than surveillance. Therefore, both of these chapters could be of interest to a wider readership than is first apparent.I found Chapter 3 – Visual Detection and Classification of Humans… – particularly fascinating. It describes techniques for analysing and classifying human posture and motion from captured images – research that could not only contribute to homeland security surveillance, but also find many other applications to video analysis and simulation in fields as diverse as medical diagnosis and operator training. Sadly, Chapter 4 – Cyber Security Basic Defenses and Attack Trends – lets the book down badly. It’s little more than a superficial 25-page primer on elementary IT security concepts with a few examples of famous incidents and the obligatory honorific citations of iconic figures such as Ross Anderson, Gene Spafford and Kevin Poulsen thrown in. Despite having four authors and being supported by seventy references, it nevertheless reads like an undergraduate dissertation – entirely out of place in an otherwise highly technical volume presenting original research.I was also disappointed with the standard of the illustrations throughout the book. The diagrams are mostly reminiscent of Microsoft PowerPoint and clipart, and graphs from Microsoft Excel. Some of the diagrams seem to have been rather crudely scanned and as a result have jagged lines. The few photos that are present are monochrome, small and excessively contrasty, so their visual quality is poor. They are also, in too many cases for comfort, positioned without adequate consideration of the text that refers to them, so it often proves necessary to flip a page to view the diagram under discussion.
The biggest gripe I have is the complete absence from this book of any social context. It’s essentially about surveillance, yet exclusively about its technical aspects. However, surveillance, particularly in connexion with homeland security, cuts to the very core of civil life, so I feel its influence is worthy of a more exhaustive discussion than the single passing reference I found: “As for privacy, let us briefly note that people are willing to sacrifice privacy … when data can be collected … only by recognised authorities” (chapter 7, p. 178) – a statement in any case belied by the sustained expressions of public revulsion that led to the recent dismantling of numerous government demographic database projects in the UK. Among the discussion of impressively ingenious surveillance technologies, I find no reference to their proportionality or appropriateness to the human context of homeland security. Indeed, pretty much every reference to humans in this book is to them as adversaries. This is a particularly egregious failing because homeland security breaches are extremely rare events and there is growing evidence that unless bureaucratic and technocratic enthusiasm for “solutions” are reined in by common sense and humanity, the cure could easily end up worse for us than the disease. So, I would have been a lot happier if at least one of the four chapters written expressly for this book had been dedicated to the social implications of homeland security surveillance from the perspective of the defended.
An interesting if techno-centric collection of disparate research papers on applications of IT to surveillance and the processing of intelligence data. Although three years old and thus somewhat behind the leading edge, it could still be of value to readers with sufficient knowledge of computer science, mathematics and physics.
Marks: 3 out of 5