Smart ammunition is about to make things a lot more dangerous for guerrillas fighting regular troops
The XM25, as the new gun is known, weighs about 6kg (13lb) and fires a 25mm round. The trick is that instead of having to be aimed directly at the target, this round need only be aimed at a place in proximity to it. Once there, it explodes—just like Shrapnel’s original artillery shells—and the fragments kill the enemy. It knows when to explode because of a timed fuse.
The XM25 appears to work well. It is accurate at ranges of up to 500 metres. That is almost as far as America’s main assault rifle, the M-16, can shoot conventional bullets with accuracy. More pertinently, it is nearly double the range of the AK-47, a rifle of Soviet design that is used by many insurgent groups. And according to Sergeant-Major Bernard McPherson, part of the XM25’s development programme in Virginia, it is receiving rave reviews from soldiers in the field.
Compelling pictures from a traceable source may also prove to be a double-edged sword for protesters. Police can mine video files for hidden information (“metadata” in the jargon) that could help identify the camera’s owner, or use face-recognition software on the people being filmed. A study by Alessandro Acquisti and his colleagues at Carnegie-Mellon University found that a program developed there, known as PittPatt, was able to identify one in three students who were stopped and photographed voluntarily, just by matching the photos with their public ones on Facebook.
This is why Guardian Project and Witness, two non-profit groups, are developing some software called Obscuracam. It lets mobile-phone users upload video with the metadata stripped out and people’s faces pixelated to protect their identities. Another work in progress is Informacam, which will add location information and a digital seal that shows if a file has been tampered with. That would allow someone to upload both a sanitised version for public viewing and a verified version to a secure server to provide legally solid evidence if necessary.
The authorities will never be far behind. Anyone taking a smartphone through a checkpoint risks having the gadget seized and the data copied, with potentially dire consequences. Using it to film a protest may attract the attention of baton-wielding cops, or worse. When all citizens are potential reporters, they risk being treated as journalists.