Welcome To Minority Report - Where The Government Never Forgets A Face

News Image By PNW Staff November 04, 2016
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The movie Minority Report, based on a short by Philip K. Dick, is a famous example of a techno-police state in the future where crime can be predicted and the perpetrators jailed while still innocent. 

Yet the movie version also shows viewers another unsettling aspect of the future: omnipresent and interconnected facial recognition systems. 

Everywhere Tom Cruise's character goes, he is recognized by interactive billboards, traffic systems and police cameras. 

It is a vision of a world in which exposing your face in public means both instant and permanent recognition by automated systems that know you, track you and never forget. 

Yet in some places, this is no longer fiction. Widespread facial recognition is now becoming a reality for many, especially in places such as New York City, and the consequences may be more sinister and far-reaching than most would think.

A recent Georgetown University study has examined the increasing reliance on facial recognition systems by American police. 

The researchers found that upwards of 117 million Americans now have their unique facial geometry patterns stored in databases that are accessible to the police. The photos from drivers' licenses are now uploaded from 16 states into central FBI databases. 

Grow a beard, change your makeup or cut your hair, but none of it will matter because the system is built to recognize your unique facial geometry. 

Photos from mug shots, driver's licenses, surveillance cameras and myriad other sources are feeding these vast databases, Georgetown University found, and there is little oversight to restrict its use.

The ACLU has also been hard at work unearthing new plans to wire our cities for facial recognition and they have reported this week that Governor Andrew Cuomo's plan to invest $100 billion in New York's infrastructure also includes a plan to "reimagine New York's intersections and crossings for the 21st century" through the use of sophisticated cameras, license plate readers and facial recognition technology at key locations across the city. 

Sensors and cameras, linked through automated recognition systems, will dot the city and closely monitor areas of interest.

In a recent report, the ACLU raises many questions that have been conveniently ignored by those eager to pass laws to expand police power. 

Who will have access to this information? Who will New York City share it with? What restrictions will there be on its use? It is already clear that simply by walking through or near a tunnel, bus terminal, bridge or historic site an innocent person's facial data will be entered into a searchable database. 

There have already been reports of police linking facial recognition systems with drones flown over crowds that automatically scan for known fugitives.

Police have scanned concerts with facial-recognition cameras mounted on drones in an effort to sort out criminals from the crowd, but there have also been reports of police using such systems over peaceful protests. 

Think you can hide in the anonymity of a large peaceably assembled protest crowd to voice your concerns over government oppression? You could very well find a drone scanning your face and logging your identity for later arrest. 

Turkey and Ukraine have both used cell phone tracking at demonstrations to log the identities of thousands of protestors who were later targeted, but facial recognition takes this frightening possibility one step further.

Facebook now boasts a 97.25% accuracy rate with photo recognition. Designed to automate the photo-tagging system, the fact is that a multi-billion-dollar mega-corporation has thrown its resources behind developing a technology capable of identifying anyone in any photo, a dream come true for an eager police state. 

Stores are also beginning to employ facial recognition, much like the advertising screens in Minority Report, to target specific customers. It is almost time to say goodbye to anonymity in public now.

The ACLU reminds us in their report that such systems have a way of "creeping toward" ubiquity just as cell phone, email and social media monitoring already have. 

Decades ago, we would have recoiled at the idea that we would all carry tracking devices in our pockets, that the government would have access to our private correspondence and that our digital photos and diaries would be equally open to the government. 

But now the great majority accept this without a second thought. More protections now exist on collecting fingerprints than collecting facial scans or private cell phone data.

Chances are your photo is already in a database or will be soon. One step at a time, the State grows in its ability to monitor and control and any semblance of privacy slips away as even our faces betray us. 

Welcome to our own real world dystopian Minority Report where the government never forgets a face.

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