We’re Off The Map: Liberty vs. Security


You’re off the edge of the map, mate. Here there be monsters!” – Hector Barbossa

So, the NSA. I think we’re all familiar with the recent stories about the NSA. The leaks. The back and forth opinions on how much they’re monitoring, what they’re monitoring and if they’re storing it. How many degrees of separation between a person and a terrorist must there be before it’s off limits? Hey, most of us even learned a new word, “metadata”.

Well, I guess Homeland Security got a little jealous of all that attention and cool gear. According to the NYT (yeah, yeah, I know), the Dept of Homeland Security is getting closer and closer to having usable facial recognition software.


“The federal government is making progress on developing a surveillance system that would pair computers with video cameras to scan crowds and automatically identify people by their faces, according to newly disclosed documents and interviews with researchers working on the project.”

Uh huh. So the question becomes, when and how and for what purpose would this technology be used? Would it be used in the aftermath of a terrorist attack like we saw in Boston? Would it be used to try and identify a specific known threat? Or it would it just tie into existing cameras and run in real time?

What safeguards would be in place? Would police need a warrant or court order? In some instances but not others? If people are identified by this software but are not implicated or involved in the matter at hand, would any info collected be destroyed? For instance, an attack happens. Law enforcement goes to the tape to try and identify who the perpetrator is. They are going to initially have multiple people they’re looking at. They identify Citizen X as someone of interest. They note his movements, where he’s going, what he’s doing. He’s ultimately a nobody. Has nothing to do with anything. Is all that info destroyed or does it go into a database somewhere?

Facial recognition software is the stuff of movies, but it’s coming closer and closer to reality and that has some frightening implications for privacy. If the government can make it work, I promise you a private company can do it better and cheaper. There are serious commercial implications for this. We all know that Facebook has a reputation for generating privacy concerns. They have already launched facial recognition software for suggesting who to “tag” in your photos. What happens when Facebook starts matching facial recognition with ads clicked or the locations where the photos are taken and then sells that information to other companies? How would you like to walk into a store and within a minute or so the clerk knows your name and what your general interests are based on your online habits? Or the stores simply tie their facial recognition software with the purchases you make in that store?

If you think that sounds outlandish, I would suggest you take a few minutes and learn about targeted advertising and targeted sales.

At what point does this…..

face recognition technology

…become the reality of our everyday life? At what point are we identified every time we’re in public? Who controls that information? The government? AlextheChick, a commenter at Ace of Spades HQ, voiced the opinion that, and I’m paraphrasing here, “It’s not that I don’t trust the Obama administration with this power, it’s that I don’t trust anyone with this power.”

She’s absolutely right. Power corrupts. There will be abuses. How do we stop, or at least curtail, those abuses? Oversight has generally been the answer. And that’s the one thing that has been severely lacking in our government for quite some time.

How do we stop this? How do we protect ourselves? Damned if I know. I’m a newbie partisan hack blogger. But I do know we’re in a fight folks. And the arena of that fight is ever growing. And there seem to be no rules. If you push back against this stuff then you’re either a racist or anti-homeland security or a right wing freak or whatever or whatever or whatever. There is no insult/slander/lie that’s too low for the minions of the continually expanding state to use in their quest for a bigger, more powerful state.

My thoughts on that? Well…..


“Well, if there aint’ going to be any rules, let’s get the fight started. Someone count. 1,2,3 go.” – Butch Cassidy


14 thoughts on “We’re Off The Map: Liberty vs. Security

  1. Remember, there are many areas where the police are already taking pictures of the license plate of any vehicle on the road and/or parked outside. Answers to the questions of “what are you using that information for” and “how long are you keeping it” and “why are you using a third party vendor” are not being answered with anything reassuring.

    We are at if not beyond the point that there is no such thing as off grid. Let us say you are some random paranoid person such as, oh, say me. Let us say that you don’t like going Outside in the first place. Let us say that you decide the way to avoid the spy cameras is to use Amazon because, hell, getting a new kidney will shortly be a perk for having Prime (Prrriiiiimmmmeee).

    What does that end up meaning? Amazon will know everything about me. I mean *everything* about me. Amazon knows that now. Want to know what books I read, what movies and tv shows I watch, what foods I eat, what clothes I wear? Amazon knows. Hell, Amazon can tell you with very reasonable certain what kinds of adult entertainment I like by the combination of books, adult toys and sundries that I buy. With the advent of Amazon Worlds, Amazon can tell you what kind of fanfic I read. It is a tiny hop skip and jump from there to all kinds of analytic data as to household composition and political leanings.

    So even staying inside won’t save me so long as I have any type of interaction at all with any retailer of any type, online or off. Yaaaay.

    Nice sucking up, btw, though the fuller version of that ends with hell, I don’t trust me with that power. I have met me. I will abuse it.

  2. The old Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times.
    We’re certainly in those.
    We’ve reached the point where things that were theoretically possible, are now practically possible.
    Take the mail. 10 years ago if you had asked me “Can the USPS track each piece of mail?” I’d have said “well, sure I guess, but the manpower involved will be horrific.”
    Enter high speed, high res-cameras that are reasonably cheap. What was once only a theory is now not just practical, but reality.
    Same point with the facial recognition. Theoretically with enough man power, you could have done something similar years ago. Now it’s practical.
    What does this mean? I’m not really sure, in this context especially. I’m not sure a “right to not be photographed in public” is really something that can exist practically. After all, public. So does it follow then “a right not to be tracked” also doesn’t exist? (Since “Tracking” in this case is just a summary of all the photographs in public.)
    Do we ban government from doing this? If so, how will you know they’re actually following through?

    There was talk about the FISA court of adding a “public advocate” of sorts, who would serve as a counterbalance to the state. Frankly I don’t think this would work, even with the best of intentions.
    I go to what I know, research ethics. There we did this some 35 years ago now. We added Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) as sort of a “public advocate” in research. And yet, proximity to the organization you’re supposed to be counterbalancing creates a sort of mess, and so, these days many people (myself included think these IRBs are little more than rubber stamps for institutions. After all, if they do their job too well, no enough research gets approved at any given place and sponsors (and faculty) will just go elsewhere, venue shopping as it were.

    What’s to say the same thing wouldn’t happen to a public advocate on the FISA court (or a public advocate overseeing surveillance?)

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