The dystopian auto-face recognition plan for ‘smart cities’


Last week, tech company NVidia announced a new partnership with AI developer AnyVision to develop automatic face recognition technology for closed-circuit television (CCTV) surveillance cameras in so-called “smart cities.”

AnyVision claims the technology enables cameras that can continuously scan for faces 24/7, automatically identifying and tracking individuals within a large crowd with 99% accuracy,” writes Monica Chin of Mashable. “Algorithms working with human monitors can then compare the faces identified against a database of known terrorists or criminals.

Chin writes that this technology “absolutely” is “terrifying, and possibly everything Orwell warned us about,” yet writes that “it could also save thousands of lives.”

“The technology could be useful not only for catching at-large criminals, but also for quickly identifying suspects, and tracking down individuals who have gone missing,” Chin writes. While claims of the effectiveness of surveillance cameras in deterring crime have not always proven true in the past, it’s certainly conceivable that if everyone continues acquiescing to ever-more intrusive surveillance, and as the technology advances, we’ll likely find ourselves in an irreversibly dystopian police state (where common crime does indeed become a thing of the past, though at the cost of important freedoms we may presently take for granted) before we know it. And there are other potential problems that could arise from such technology.

“If and when this technology is implemented, the amount of sensitive, biometric data would be like a treasure chest for hackers,” notes Caitlin Fairchild of NextGov. “Though, Nvidia says it is fully committed to protecting personal data.”

Private companies and the government have been developing surveillance technologies like facial recognition for years — sometimes working together in secret, as I helped chronicle in a 2014 series of articles about a scheme involving the city of Boston and IBM.

Yet city-wide automatic facial recognition surveillance is something new. It comes as part of a wave of developments, however, that seems to indicate government monitoring of citizens will only grow more pervasive for the foreseeable future. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), for example, is tapping into a national automatic license-plate reader database, and it came to light last year that in its enthusiasm to embrace new biometric technologies such as iris scanning, the U.S. may foot the bill not only for an oppressive system of total surveillance at home, but in Mexico as well.

It should go without saying that implementing this kind of technology poses a grave threat to individual freedom that far outweighs any potential benefit (unless you’re an aspiring authoritarian), that it’s a bad idea that America and its government should not pursue, and that if anything we should be moving towards less surveillance rather than more. Unfortunately for the rest of us, our government and the people who stand to make large sums of money selling these technologies to it see things differently.



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