Another Tech Advancement Promises To Have Dangerous Implications

Had our grandparents, or even our parents, been able to glimpse into the future of technology, they would have been rendered speechless.

Technology advances literally daily, and while much of it has been beneficial, some is downright frightening.

Now, like a scene from a sci-fi movie, another tech breakthrough is being introduced – but it may come with dangerous implications.

Facial recognition technology has been around for a while now, but has been limited in its use, partially because of the huge price tag associated with it.

Law enforcement agencies have been researching its use for years, but have so far held back because of budgetary restraints.  But now, tech companies are partnering with retail giant Amazon to make facial recognition technology much more affordable – downright cheap, in fact — with their Reckognition system.

And it should be of great concern to us all.

NPR reported:

The companies that make the systems say they’re now able to compare an image against billions of faces, which makes it technically feasible to track the residents of a whole city — or country.

For autocratic societies such as China, the appeal is obvious. But police in western democracies are also showing interest.

American police have generally held off, but there’s new evidence that one police department — Orlando, Fla. — has decided to try it out.  What’s more, Orlando ordered its facial recognition system from Amazon.

“City of Orlando is a launch partner of ours,” Amazon’s Ranju Das recently told a developer conference in Seoul, South Korea. “They have cameras all over the city. The authorized cameras are then streaming the data … we are a subscriber to the stream, we analyze the video in real time, search against the collection of faces they have.”

He showed the conference a demo of real-time facial recognition using video from a “traffic cam that was provided by the city of Orlando.”

In a written statement, the Orlando Police Department called the Amazon facial recognition system a “pilot program” and said it “will be used in accordance with current and applicable law.”

While this system has obvious benefits for investigating crime, it would seem the violation of privacy for the rest of us far outweighs any positives.

While the systems are merely being tested in local areas now, we all know what happens when a tech advancement catches on.

We are already surrounded by cameras in every store and parking lot, and with this system, we can expect for our every movement to be tracked.  Cameras can zoom into cars, watch our every move as we stroll down the sidewalk, and capture our interactions with our children at the local playground.

And put our faces into databases – all over the world.

NPR continued:

Improved algorithms mean the technology can recognize faces in motion, even when viewed by security cameras positioned at odd angles.

The companies that make the systems say they’re now able to compare an image against billions of faces, which makes it technically feasible to track the residents of a whole city — or country.

The question is, has the horse already bolted, with a lot of this technology?” says Tony Porter, the surveillance camera commissioner for England and Wales.

He worries that British police are running “trials” of real-time facial recognition before elected officials can properly debate what the rules should be. “Regulation is a year, two years behind the technology,” he says. “And that allows bad practice to become embedded.”

There are similar concerns in the U.S. Privacy advocates say earlier forms of facial recognition technology have been adopted by American police without serious oversight, and the same may happen with real-time recognition.

Opponents of the idea warn of the consequences.  Americans may say they value their privacy, but the rampant use of social media “oversharing” proves that giving up our privacy through technology can become second nature, and therefore accepted.

Experts argue that the more cameras track us, the more we will get used to — and completely accepting of — the idea.  A frightening prospect indeed.

One law professor shared his concerns with NPR:

Jonathan Turley, a civil libertarian and law professor at George Washington University, worries that this kind of incrementalism will eventually lead to a “fishbowl society,” in which it will be impossible to walk down the street without being identified.

“Unfortunately, it could happen in the United States. There’s not a lot standing between instantaneous facial recognition technology and its ubiquitous use by police departments or cities,” Turley says.

He says people shouldn’t assume the courts will limit police use of facial recognition, especially if the real-time ID systems are first “normalized” in private settings. (NEC says it has already sold real-time facial recognition to private customers in the U.S., though it won’t name them.)

Turley says the courts’ attitude will likely be determined by people’s everyday expectations of privacy, which will erode as people get used to these systems. “As businesses recognize you coming into stores and coffee shops, at what point do our expectations fall to the point that the extension of the government into the area becomes less problematic?”

This should be a cause of grave concern, for us and for our children.  Most parents would agree that we don’t want our children to become used to this type of violation of our rights.

And if they grow up with it — as it becomes “normalized,” as Turley predicts — how will future generations understand the need for privacy to keep ourselves safe from an overreaching government?

And, like every other technological advancement, criminals will find a way to use it to prey on their victims.

For now, it is only being tested in the U.S., but it will not likely be long before it comes to a town near you.

What do you think of Amazon’s new facial recognition system becoming readily available to law enforcement and other U.S. agencies?  Do you fear this technology will be abused?  Leave us your thoughts.

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