For Tech's Sake: Connecting public security to home electronics

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New offerings from some of the standout start-up companies at the CES Government IT Showcase:



  • Konexx, San Diego, Calif. Its "Phone 2 PC - Law Enforcement" digital voice recorder, about the size of a cell phone, can be attached to a desktop or laptop computer to record telephone conversations (such as police reports or on-site witness testimony) as compressed .wav files. These files can be digitally earmarked for follow-up action and shared via secure e-mail with other investigators. (www.ISSupply.com)


  • KeyGhost Ltd., Christchurch, New Zealand. The company's souped-up computer cable, with a built-in chip in a module smaller than a roll of 35 mm film, can capture up to 2 million keystrokes. The device is being marketed as a way to monitor use of Internet, e-mail and other computer applications for security assurance. KeyGhost says its technology, which uses 128-bit encryption, is "impossible to detect and/or disable" via software and that it can be used in computer fraud investigations as well as a monitoring device to detect unauthorized access at home or office. (www.keyghost.com)


  • Mehl, Griffin & Bartek Ltd., Arlington, Va. The Product Acoustic Signature System (PASS) inspection device looks like a battery-powered drill, which isn't surprising, because the power-supply of the early models actually comes from off-the-shelf drills. PASS can identify and measure liquids in sealed containers. It's a technology transfer offspring of a device developed at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and now being marketed by an Arlington, Va., firm that has created thousands of liquid identification measurements. When the PASS device is pressed against a container, ultrasonic pulses create return echoes that analyze and identify the liquid ? confirming whether it matches the label of the container. PASS can also detect submerged packages and concealed compartments within a container. (www.mgbltd.com)



Gary Arlen, president, Arlen Communications Inc., Bethesda, Md.

At a trade show best known for its exuberant DVD and dramatic car stereo demonstrations, the spotlight on intelligence network security, Defense Department biometric systems and liquid container verification seemed an aberration.

Yet this month's Consumer Electronics Show offered such dichotomies and more. The event also underscored that overlapping technologies are touching law enforcement, intelligence and government customers as well as home and mobile entertainment.

The thousand or so federal, state and local officials who signed up for the CES Government IT Showcase were easily lost among the 117,000 attendees at the annual Las Vegas electronics extravaganza. The behemoth event now attracts suppliers, such as component and chipmakers and service providers, who are seeking relationships in multiple sectors, including government markets.

The government IT conference and exhibit hall were sequestered in a separate hotel facility, offering a three-day roster of sessions uniquely focused on government issues, such as threat assessment, data sharing, "the weaponization of data" and transportation security.

Nearly 100 exhibitors ? from giants such as Lockheed Martin Corp., Science Applications International Corp. and Alcatel to tiny, one-product start-ups ? showed their wares. Almost 20 percent of the young ventures had roots in the CIA's In-Q-Tel investment program.

Of course, the proximity to CES' main show floors gave government officials a chance to see the latest gadgets for their homes. Many of the products ? especially plasma screens, organic light emitting diode displays and liquid-crystal-on-silicon (LCOS) projection TV systems ? will surely find a role in agency as well as home settings when technology and pricing stabilizes.

Not surprisingly, much more foot traffic headed toward the glitzy consumer devices than into the arcane government products sector.

Yet with its emphasis on emerging technologies, the Government IT Showcase offered a glimpse of the devices and tactics that are being adopted and deployed through local, state and federal agencies. The gear shown here typifies the security and protection products are popping up throughout the changing public landscape in the same way that flat-panel video screens, handheld games, PDAs and home media centers at CES are blossoming in personal environments.

Nearly two-thirds of government attendees represented federal and Defense Department intelligence organizations, with the rest coming from state and local organizations.

The overall program was geared to emerging technologies in surveillance, biometrics, networking and geospatial systems, according to John Skipper, vice president of National Conference Services Inc., the Columbia, Md., firm that organized the event. An NCSI-affiliated organization, the Government Emerging Technology Alliance, coordinated the program.

Building on its theme of homeland security, the IT showcase dished up an array of products and initiatives. For example, the Defense Department's Biometrics Management Office demonstrated the five "positive identification" technologies it is certifying, from retinal scans to biophysical measurement.

A defense official acknowledged that the big biometrics booth was intended to give state and local officials a chance to see systems available to them and to promote the agency's efforts?most of them handled by contractors?in evaluating technologies that can be adapted to local enforcement applications.

The showcase was dotted with firms offering tools for secure transmissions via public telecom networks, such as Groove Networks (www.groove.net) and Zaplet Inc. (www.zaplet.com). The latter features secure government/contractor collaborative e-mail capabilities.

As with much of CES, the Government IT Showcase offered enhancements. For example, a four-man California start-up, GeoFusion Inc. (www.geofusion.com) unveiled its interactive "GeoMatrix" 3D digital earth visualization applications. Building on the GIS software of ESRI, the veteran imaging vendor, GeoFusion's value-added package was typical of the start-ups offering niche services for law enforcement, surveillance and detection.

The juxtaposition of the Government IT Showcase with the dazzling CES offered a stark reminder about the connections between the intelligence and security mandates of government agencies in a world where consumer products are steeped in copyright protection battles and home networking technology.

This was the second year for the government event under the CES umbrella, although both Dan Cole of CES and John Skipper of National Conference Services acknowledged that the 2003 showcase far exceed last year's debut.

Maybe the boom stems from today's reality in which security demands much greater attention. But the expansion also reflects that CES' big electronics tent continues to embrace crossover products and interconnected digital suppliers and customers.

Gary Arlen (GaryArlen@columnist.com) is president of Arlen Communications Inc., a Bethesda, Md., research firm.



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