If you aren’t worried about your privacy in the United States, maybe you should be. The U.S. is quickly becoming the cutting edge of the use of surveillance technology against its citizens, even more so than many “totalitarian” countries.
The ironic thing is that, in many cases, U.S. citizens aren’t as concerned about privacy issues because the invaders of privacy are often companies and not just our government (which does violate everyday Americans’ privacy on a daily and pervasive basis).
It gets scarier, though, when corporations and government get in bed together to track your movements and spy on you. Case in point is the use of Amazon’s “Rekognition” facial recognition software by law enforcement in both Oregon and in Florida (hat tip to here for the lead). Annie Palmer and the Associated Press write,
Amazon is drawing the ire of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other privacy advocates after an investigation found that it has been marketing powerful facial recognition tools to police.
The tool, called ‘Rekognition’, was first released in 2016, but has since been selling it on the cheap to several police departments around the country, listing the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon and the city of Orlando, Florida among its customers.
The ACLU and other organizations are now calling on Amazon to stop marketing the product to law enforcement, saying they could use the technology to ‘easily build a system to automate the identification and tracking of anyone’.
Amazon is drawing the ire of the ACLU and other privacy advocates after an investigation found that it has been marketing powerful facial recognition tools to police
Police appear to be using Rekognition to check photographs of unidentified suspects against a database of mug shots from the county jail.
But privacy advocates have been concerned about expanding the use of facial recognition to body cameras worn by officers or safety and traffic cameras that monitor public areas, allowing police to identify and track people in real time.
Amazon offers the technology to law enforcement for just $6 to $12 a month.
The tech giant’s entry into the market could vastly accelerate development of the facial recognition systems, the privacy advocates fear.
Of course, advocates of the use of this kind of technology talk up the potential benefits which, to be fair, are real. Locating a missing child in an amusement park, for example. On the flip side, news agencies used Rekognition to identify celebrities who attended the recent royal wedding, and, while I know all of you are interested in who attended this affair (note my sarcasm), I also think that you would prefer your wedding to be a private affair.
It’s scary enough that this technology is available, but privacy advocates are concerned that this technology will start to be integrated into police body cams to identify and track anyone at any time.
But, the argument goes, if you haven’t done anything wrong, then you have nothing to fear. The problem with that logic is that you have almost certainly broken at least one law already today. Wendy McElroy writes,
If you reside in America and it is dinnertime, you have almost certainly broken the law. In his book Three Felonies a Day, civil-liberties lawyer Harvey Silverglate estimates that the average person unknowingly breaks at least three federal criminal laws every day. This toll does not count an avalanche of other laws — for example misdemeanors or civil violations such as disobeying a civil contempt order — all of which confront average people at every turn.
In other words, if someone in law enforcement wants you in jail, there is almost certainly an excuse that they can use to lock you up for doing something that you didn’t even know was illegal, and Rekognition technology, in real time, will help them find you and lock you up.
And you thought Orwell’s vision was a nightmare.