Shared Surveillance

By Larry Barrett  |  Posted 2004-04-04 Email Print this article Print

Non-obvious relationship awareness" (NORA) software probes databases in any language, searching for obscure matches between relevant information. Anonymized data (ANNA) software uses the same technology to investigate data that has been encrypted.

Shared Surveillance

Using network-based alerts, wireless networks and fax-modems tied into surveillance-video systems, casinos can get pictures of potential threats into the hands of people who can act on them.

Mr. X and his team of card counters don't get caught often. But when they do get caught, it usually isn't because of facial recognition, or even because of the Griffin shared database most casinos have subscribed to for nearly a decade. Instead, it's because of an alert sent from another casino, complete with pictures of their faces.

"When [our team was] less careful, especially about team members being seen together," Williams says, "they occasionally got burnt by information sharing, not so much from mega-services like Griffin as from faxes sent between cooperating casinos. Being listed in Griffin since 1996 or so has only been a minor nuisance by comparison."

Fax machines are now on the low-tech end of an informal surveillance data-sharing network built up between casinos. More than 150 casinos worldwide have joined a data-sharing network that Biometrica manages, called the Surveillance Information Network, or SIN. For about $75 a month, according to Pepin, agents of these casinos can use their computer keyboards to retrieve the latest intelligence on worrisome guests from other casinos, and send out queries about suspicious individuals.

When a member of Derk Boss' team in the surveillance room at Stratosphere can't identify a suspicious patron, for example, he can broadcast the customer's image out over SIN with a request for information from approximately 30 different casino surveillance rooms in Vegas and another 120 worldwide. Additionally, records and images of suspected cheats can be broadcast as well, arming other hotels with information they can add to their own databases and distribute to game watchers on the casino floor.

Pepin points to a forger found in a SIN report. "When this guy leaves the casino, he's not on his way to church," Pepin says. "He's probably going to go someplace else on the Strip."

In addition to sharing information instantly, each of Las Vegas' casinos puts what it finds into the hands of its own army: security guards, pit bosses, cheat spotters and investigators moving about in cars, according to Brady of Guardent. "For 20 years now, they've had mobile networks of former card counters driving around with images of potential cheaters," says Brady. "Their [alert system] has been much more successful than even the FBI's 'America's Most Wanted.'"

Instead of giant "mug books" or fax printouts, these front-line eyes now peer into digital assistants they hold in their hands, as well as networked computers at gaming tables and laptop computers they can take anywhere. All of these devices can be sent surveillance data from SIN—or images grabbed from the casino's own cameras—for immediate response to a threat over the casino's own secure wireless network.

How This Applies to Domestic Security: Attacks happen in the blink of an eye. "Situational" information is exactly what the Department of Homeland Security wants to collect and immediately relay. In February, DHS announced the expansion of the Joint Regional Information Exchange System (JRIES), an ad-hoc network for sharing sensitive but unclassified threat information between state, local and federal agencies. This exchange system is based partially on collaboration software from Groove Networks and is being developed under the direction of Ed Manavian, chief of the criminal intelligence bureau of the California Department of Justice.

Senior Writer
Larry, of San Carlos, Calif., was a senior writer and editor at CNet, writing analysis, breaking news and opinion stories. He was technology reporter at the San Jose Business Journal from 1996-1997. He graduated with a B.A. from San Jose State University where he was also executive editor of the daily student newspaper.

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