A recent article brought to light some shady behavior from Amazon. Mere weeks after Google sparked internal protests by working as a defense contractor, Amazon has essentially done the same thing, albeit in a much scarier setting: Amazon’s offshoot, “Rekognition”, is allowing police to use real-time facial recognition technology with zero oversight.
They even went so far as to call Orlando a “smart city”, as they’re using facial recognition in cameras around the city to track persons of interest (emphasis being on the phrase “persons of interest” — these aren’t people who have necessarily been convicted of a crime, or even charged with a crime). Due process is totally lacking in this horror show. Moreover, I wonder who defines “persons of interest”.
Beyond the eyes in the sky, the creators of the body cameras that are becoming more and more ubiquitous are either building in facial recognition technology, or making the option available in later versions. I’m all for body cameras, but their current usage is rife with problems: the main issue is that they can be turned off by the officers themselves, rendering them useless! To compound the problem, this facial recognition technology can give officers the opportunity to turn the cameras off in advance in the presence of a “troublesome” individual, “troublesome” being defined by the officer themselves, right or wrong. Imagine if you were in a place like China, with their “social credit” system…you could be targeted merely based on who you associate with, or whether you or your associates are critical of those in power!
The problem with all of these technologies, and the threat to our privacy and our other essential rights, is when these technologies are applied with zero oversight in the hands of individuals who are incentivized to misuse them. After all, what kind of officer wouldn’t use this technology if they thought it would help protect them? The question is: should we protect the officer, who has immense power, or the innocent-until-proven-guilty individual, whose power is extremely limited? When protection of both parties is not possible, I tend to vote for the latter, although this is a complex subject for another post.
So how can we thwart these potentially heinous, despicable technologies which threaten to turn our society into some Kafkaesque nightmare, something out of Minority Report? The first thought that comes to mind is “scramble suits”, something out of science fiction (specifically A Scanner Darkly, another Philip K. Dick story), which are basically a body suit that “scrambles” together different faces and bodies such that an observer will never know who’s truly behind the suit — the viewer is left with an impression of generic faces they could never hope to recall.
This is far-fetched, to say the least — aside from the technological feasibility, it mainly suffers from the same problem as the solution I proposed in my last post, that people would adopt such a technology at this point. I still plan on addressing this in future posts, how to get people to adopt privacy-friendly tech (this is no small problem). “Juggalos” (a subculture from my native Michigan) have a simpler idea: paint your face.
To cap off this post, I’d like to quote Amazon regarding this horrific real-time facial recognition technology:
Our quality of life would be much worse today if we outlawed new technology because some people could choose to abuse the technology.
On the face of it, I agree with this argument, as there is inherent danger in any freedom, However, this is a classic example of two-predicate logic, a fallacious argument that if we can’t let technology run rampant, it must be outlawed — there’s a lot of gray area between “rampant” and “outlawed”. In particular, this gray area includes legislation that could regulate the technology such that power is placed in the hands of the people, rather than the faceless entities that would use it to their own ends. With that, I’d like to leave you with a question: are you willing to put a price on privacy?