Face Recognition System: Big Brother is Watching

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Making fingerprint technology look like mere “kid’s stuff” – face recognition technology is moving ahead as the latest and greatest in high-tech security, but at what cost to freedom and privacy? Personal freedom is part of the discussion over the pros and cons of using this new system on a much wider scale. 


In 2006, the FBI explained the project to the Justice Department as one that would be a replacement and upgrade to the current fingerprinting system used to track citizens with criminal records. These plans are now making their grand appearance, at a cost of $1 billion to get the technology into place across the country. Initially it will be implemented in various unidentified states, but eventually it will be almost everywhere.


For years now, this technology has been used on a smaller scale as a way of securing access to various parts of a company, monitoring time and attendance of employees, as well as managing visitors. However, when used on a wider scale, it can scan, register, monitor and log the activities of almost anyone within its scanning range. While this can be very beneficial in many ways as an effort to locate wanted or missing individuals, concerns arise when you consider that it allows anyone, anywhere, to be monitored and tracked. It brings Orwell’s 1984 to life, as “Big Brother” really will be watching your every move.


When it comes to the privacy issue, many have raised questions about how it will affect the normal citizen. Some groups, in an effort to push back against this invasion of privacy have released instructional videos on how to thwart the video surveillance through simple and not so simple means.


One site raised serious questions on the privacy issue, stating:


When the government is given the ability to decide what constitutes suspicious activity and no oversight into that decision making is at all apparent, the consequences of the TrapWire system transcend to a point where free speech and political activism can become nonexistent, lest the fear of governmental retaliation is ignored entirety. Given repeated reports of activists and journalists being targeted by law enforcement even within the United States this year, though, the fear of federal surveillance of all US citizens is quickly becoming not just a distant worry but a very real crisis.


Similar concerns were brought up by US Senator Al Franken (D-Minnesota), who told the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on privacy, technology and the law earlier this year, “Facial recognition creates acute privacy concerns that fingerprints do not. Once someone has your face print, they can get your name, they can find your social networking account and they can find and track you in the street, in the stores you visit, the government buildings you enter, and the photos your friends post online.”


Building the image library data needed to get this system moving forward quickly can easily be accomplished by the government accessing the numerous social networks already on the web, and acquiring millions of available photos. Jim Harper, director of information policy at the Cato Institute, states that facial recognition "is more accurate with Google or  Facebook, because they will have anywhere from a half-dozen to a dozen pictures of an individual, whereas I imagine the FBI has one or two mug shots.” Adding to the system the millions of photos found on these social networking sites, gives local and international law officials a huge database of images and interests to work from.


The idea of heightened security and the potential for locating wanted criminals sounds great, but one has to wonder if it will do as much as expected. Criminals will surely devise ways to avoid and get around the system, making it nothing more than a monitoring system of the average citizen. If the government could be fully trusted to not monitor or log that private data for regular citizens, that would be one thing, but we know that will not be the case. Is the possible security achieved worth the freedom and privacy lost?


Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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  • Jeffrey McCormack
    Jeffrey McCormack
    Eva, yeah, it is hard to tell what some companies are thinking sometimes. Thanks for reading and responding.
  • Eva
    Indeed. What surprises me is that Google has aledray figured all this out, put it in the Google Public Policy Blog, then effectively disregarded it (and actually they actively worked to counter it) for Google+.
  • ChiipiirriiT
    Indeed. What surprises me is that Google has already figured all this out, put it in the Google Public Policy Blog, then effectively disregarded it (and actually they actively worked to counter it) for Google+.

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