US HomeGuard: Someone to Watch Over You

Jay Walker, founder of Priceline.com, has moved from the auction business to the security business with US HomeGuard, an idea that would pay ordinary citizens $10 an hour to stare at surveillance video looking for terrorist activity.

Surveillance Often, it doesn't take much effort to find a company that's exploiting the events of 9/11 in its products or services. And it seems that there are more exploits on the horizon.

Jay Walker, founder of Priceline.com, has moved from the auction business to the security business with US HomeGuard, an idea that would pay ordinary citizens $10 an hour to stare at surveillance video looking for terrorist activity. It's like a neighborhood watch, but the neighborhoods are vulnerable spots near critical infrastructures where it would be suspicious for someone to wander.

The surveillance would work like this. A spotter logs on and views a surveillance photo sent via wireless webcam. The spotter votes on the photo: yes if there's unusual activity, no if there's none, and maybe if it's unclear. If the spotter votes yes, the photo is routed (encrypted) to other spotters to vote. If enough vote yes, the system alerts the authorities. It would also send fake photos with people purposefully added in. If a spotter votes no on such a photo, he is suspended without pay for three minutes and not rehired until he correctly votes on several more test photos.

Clever? Sure. Viable? Not so much. The surveillance would only work for remote sites, where human activity is very rare. And if that's the case, many experts believe motion detection software is both more economical and more accurate than human spotters. Then there's the matter of money. Walker proposes that the companies being protected, and the government, foot the $10 per hour per spotter bill. He also wants to sell the system to the government for $1 and then charge an ongoing service fee.

The Department of Homeland Security hasn't seriously evaluated the idea, and doesn't plan to, but Walker is unphased. All he needs now are some citizens who want to stare at their computers for 10 bucks an hour.

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