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Big Brother gets a boost from bleeding edge technology

President Barack Obama wants to trim defense spending.  Former Mass. Governor and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney wants to bump the defense budget.  But one thing both agree on funding is funding the U.S. National Intelligence Agency's (NIA) ambitious facial recognition bid, which along with other advanced identification efforts, currently has been earmarked $1B USD in Congressional funding.

I. Facial Recognition is Now

Much of the funding goes to researchers working at Pittsburgh, Penn.'s Carnegie Mellon University.  By 2010, CMU reported [PDF] to Congress that it could pick out a person's face out of a database of 1.6m mug shots approximately 92 percent of the time.  While that high success rate did require the target be looking at the camera, Marios Savvide's lab is working to improve the algorithms so they can recognize faces at other angles too -- even if the person is looking away.

Using a 3D model of the face, the CMU algorithms render expected images from various angles for comparison.  Currently, the biggest challenge is lighting.  Results can be improved by augmenting the visible light data with infrared camera images -- but infrared cameras are expensive, and are relatively rare at public locations.

FBI tracking
The FBI is spending hundreds of millions in an effort to track U.S. citizens in public and on the internet, using advanced facial recognition. [Image Source: Hang the Bankers]

CMU researcher Alessandro Acquisti in July testimony [PDF] before the U.S. Senate told the legislators, "FACE recognition is 'now'."

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation is indeed looking to roll the technology out as part of its Next Generation Identification (NGI) program. The program will also add other biometric identification technologies, including iris scans, DNA analysis, and voice identification.

Interpol -- an international policing body -- has long maintained a similar database to target high profile criminals such as international thieves, terrorists, and child sex predators.

But the new NGI effort, to be rolled out nationwide by 2014, represents the first effort to create a database of images of all criminal offenders in America.  Some states already have begun to upload their photos at the program's kickoff in February.  Currently the FBI's publicly announced plans have been limited to facial recognition on criminals.

II. Fighting Crime, or "Big Brother is Watching YOU"?

However, the FBI has also hinted that it might add photos of individuals under investigation, or individuals who appeared near high-profile persons of interest to the database.  The latter prospect has privacy advocates most alarmed, as it could land you on "Big Brother's database" without a single criminal act.

In fact, the FBI appears to be doing exactly that already, as some states now pass drivers' license headshots to the agency for future reference/screening.  The ambiguity surrounding photographic databases and facial recognition of law-abiding citizens has advocacies very upset.

Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Jennifer Lynch told the publication New Scientist that her nonprofit advocacy is concerned that the FBI is creeping towards civilian photographic databases with these efforts.  And Jay Stanley of the American Civil Liberties Union comments, "Once you start plugging this into the FBI database, it becomes tantamount to a national photographic database."

Big Brother is watching
The FBI has bipartisan support for developing facial recognition algorithms and databases to spot U.S. citizens -- regardless of whether they're criminals. [Image Source: Djibnet]

The prospect is a frightening one for several reasons.  First, some fear it could lead to an escalation in the "war on drugs", which already is responsible for the U.S.'s world leading imprisonment rate.  Second, some fear that it is a step towards an Orwellian system of crackdown on dissenters; after all, the trademark of George Orwell's iconic 1984 was "Big Brother is watching you."  Finally, such systems could easily lead to micro-scale abuses without sufficient transparency and regulation; for example an agent could potentially use the system to stalk an ex.

In short, there are many questions to be asked.  But Congress and the intelligence agencies are leaning towards pushing the program now, and shelving answers to those questions for a later date.  With the majority leadership of both parties on a federal level eager to expand domestic surveillance of U.S. citizens and throwing money at the objective, the plans are poised to rapidly escalate over the next couple years.

Sources: U.S. Senate, New Scientist

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RE: Citation Needed
By JasonMick on 9/11/2012 3:13:42 PM , Rating: 2
Sure, it is a known stance that they take but to me (someone who is a straight-edge), I fully fail to see that as a major detriment that could prevent me from voting for one of their candidates.
Cool, I admire that.

I'm not straight-edge myself currently, but I have been during some parts of my adult life. Even when I'm not (as in the present) I tend to exercise moderation (Buddha's metaphorical "middle path") versus the majority of my friends who engage in varying kinds of excesses. It's just my own personal philosophy.

But as you said, whether or not you're a drug user should and does not dictate your feelings on legality of certain drugs.

For example my grandfather would smoke ten packs a day and used to drink a fifth a day (I am not joking), and yet had the nerve to regularly remark, "I don't know why in the hell people would want to smoke marijuana."

(And he was seriously angry about it, not being ironic/sarcastic.)

Ironic, to say the least.
as I have observed, they tend to be far more factual and less emotional than both the Republican and Democratic parties.
I agree with your comment wholeheartedly and wanted to add a bit on my political feelings/preferences.

I have no problem with Republicans, Democrats, or any other party. I've voted for politicians from both parties before.

Aside from civil liberties, one of the biggest things that concerns me is when political parties -- as both major ones have done of late -- conspire to regulate the market, turning it from a free market into a closed market where cartels own the government and use it to kill competitors.

To give 3 pertinent examples:
1. Teva Pharmaceuticals sells methamphetamine salts under the trade name Adderall. It is legal to purchase Adderall with prescription. But if you buy methamphetamine from an independent source (e.g. a street dealer) both you and the dealer can face prison time.
2. Mattel and other large toy manufacturers lobbied the government to adopt stricter regulation regarding lead in toys, but to exempt large shipments. Hence the public received little additional protection, but Mattel, et al. succeeded in putting many small toymakers out of business via extra regulatory fees, punishments, etc.
3. Apple Inc. recently won a $1B verdict, thanks in part to "patenting" an animation of a naturally occurring phenomena -- a transient response. But wait, you say, that's the patent system, not government. Well the patent system is a part of the government and that's why cartels (corporations) oppose patent reform via their bought representatives. So as a result Apple gets to likely ban much of its competitor's product line.

I do find the libertarian party to be the closest to my current political philosophy, in that -- as you eloquently stated -- it removes the "emotional" fallacies parroted by both parties from the equation, while supporting civil liberties and a truly free market.

However, I would be open to voting for any candidate or party who embodies these values -- truly preserving civil liberties and a free market.

"A politician stumbles over himself... Then they pick it out. They edit it. He runs the clip, and then he makes a funny face, and the whole audience has a Pavlovian response." -- Joe Scarborough on John Stewart over Jim Cramer

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