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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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This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

By Trisped on 9/12/2012 11:22:57 PM , Rating: 2
Yet again you miss the point.

The whole point of the post was that the first issue (or most important) was that this tech might be used to help the war on drugs.
What I was trying to point out, in an ironical way, is that you tend to run to sex and drugs as the first, most important, or only reason something is bad. In this case I expected the first problem with the facial recognition system to be risk of abuse, not that it would be applied legal to catch villans.

In answer to a few of the points you raised:

Most people who provide "drugs" which cannot be obtained without a prescription are called pharmacist or technician. Of course by definition food is also a drug, so my local grocer could also be considered a provider of "drugs", though most don't take the "physiological effect" of the drug name quite that far.
The slang term "drug dealer" is usually in reference to a person who deals illegal drugs.
These are all basic terms which can be easily Googled and checked, so the fact that you did not understand what I meant by "drug dealer" would be you, yet again, not understanding what is clearly stated.

As for your statement about government "... trying to fight human free will" government is a set of laws which all citizens must follow. If there are no laws, then there is no need for government. If there are laws then citizens have the option to exercise their "free will" to follow or not follow the laws. But, if they do not follow the laws then they must accept the consequences as the law dictates (go to jail, pay fine, etc).

So what laws should a government enact? It depends on your government, but in the USA the laws are suppose to be to protect the country and its citizens. Should the government need to step in and control the use of narcotics or other illegal drugs? No, people should be smart enough not to use them. Of course they are not. In fact, you are part of that group. So what? Why not let you do what you want? Well because it leads to others who are not knowledge about the harmful side effects to participate, causing irreparable harm. In the past you have implied that a person should know there will be issues, but it is impossible to know everything. As a result, to protect its most important asset, the government has enacted laws to protect its people form known hazards. Some of these laws were against the use of mercury in food products, encourage citizens to get an education, and to keep citizens on equal grounds. These laws were made in response to a growing problem, in an attempt to prevent it from destroying or damaging its citizens.

So yes, it would be nice if government did not need to pass these laws (on drugs or otherwise), but if humans could know everything and always do what is best there would be no need for government or laws at all.


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