Blue Heron in flight

Monday, June 17, 2013

Face Time

I recognize that I am part of the 46% national minority who gives a damn about all of this privacy, spook stuff and I must once again apologize. Readership is getting bored, my analytics show it, or maybe people have just thrown their hands up, perhaps happy and secure in their beds, doubly secure in the knowledge that their government is watching out for them, stopping all those nasty terrorist attacks. More pictures of birds please, don't depress us.

It is, well, hard for me to get off the subject, I get a bit obsessed with the whole thing, I know. I think that we/I  are/am in some sort of "morning after" type shock, as if the veils of the scope and reach of the intrusion have been finally laid bare and I believe that the repercussions on the national psyche will reverberate strongly into the future. Of course, I could be wrong, I often am.

I honestly have no idea if the supposed safeguards that our leaders say are put in place to guard against domestic spying are working or not. The stuff is secret and the NSA types say their oath to protect our privacy is sacred. Taking them at their word, you suppose they ever make a mistake or step over the line? Are there people in the system that will look over the shoulder of the people that gather and sift our information and say "Hey, you've gone too far, that stuff about Joe Smith from Kokomo is none of your business. Cheating on his wife again, is he?"

I imagine the data analyst will be something like a conductor, looking at a symphony where every american is like a little tone and the algorithms of people who have used the word bomb in an email, or ordered the anarchist's cookbook at the library, or is known to not recite the pledge every day will make that particular person's tone a bit sharp or flat and cause them to rise out of the din for a closer looksee.

Last month our SCOTUS left the door wide open for a national DNA database. Police can now test DNA pretty much at will, without conviction of a crime. There was a very interesting story in the Washington Post yesterday about the ever increasing use of facial recognition systems titled State photo id databases become troves for police

Currently 37 states have facial recognition systems for drivers licenses. Over 120 million faces are currently in the drivers license database, the lions share who have never been accused of any crime. At least 26 of these states allow state, local or federal law enforcement agencies to search the databases in an attempt to learn the identities of people considered relevant to investigations. The state department database is comprised of over 230 million faces.
“As a society, do we want to have total surveillance? Do we want to give the government the ability to identify individuals wherever they are . . . without any immediate probable cause?” asked Laura Donohue, a Georgetown University law professor who has studied government facial databases. “A police state is exactly what this turns into if everybody who drives has to lodge their information with the police.”
I can imagine the contractor who has to pore over our data, sitting in his concrete cubical in some anonymous fortress. His system rings, "Okay, what we got, one Vern Johnson from Poway." He pushes a button and a holographic picture of poor Vern materializes in thin air, he quickly scans his database to see if the subject has ever associated with any known terrorists or political dissenters, checks to see if his bills get paid on time, the average length of his phone conversations, his search history, that sort of stuff. "Well he did know Bobby Sommers in college, maybe we should listen in on that conversation he had with him in May of 97, we've got the file right here..."

They have your picture, soon will have your DNA, obviously have access to the rest of your personal communications and data, what exactly is left? Some little old lady that will raise your arm and sniff your arm pit sweat? A national arm pit stink database?

I was struck by one comment in the article that sort of encapsulates the argument from the perspective of law enforcement.
“It’s a fine line where you need to protect the rights of the citizens, but you also are protecting the right of citizens when you ferret out crime,” said Anthony J. Silva, administrator of Rhode Island’s Division of Motor Vehicles and a former town police chief.
I think that this attitude illustrates a push pull situation where in actuality the crime ferreters will win the argument and civil libertarians will lose the argument every time. When people have tools, they use them.

Read the article, it is fascinating. The biggest player in facial recognition is a private concern in Boston named MorphoTrust USA and they are actually owned by the French conglomerate Safran.

What a world we live in. Thanks Edward, we thought we knew but now we really know. The surrender to the police state was quick and largely bloodless. People acceded with nary a peep. Feel better?


Anonymous said...

I.think it is right to focus on the surveillance. A huge program like this can take on a life of its own. Also, the LAT said it right. "Yes we scan".

Anonymous said...

Nobody who's a libertarian is in the least surprised by Snowden's disclosures. It's what we've been telling you all along.

Anonymous said...

Robert- interesting conversation with a close friend of mine today; we pretty much decided, as you have, that these tools, once built can never be turned off, and that the civil libertarians have lost this game in a rout. Case closed; Open and shut; I now agree with the tin foil hat crowd, life as we know (knew) it is gone. Really no point in voting now, or much of anything else except biding our time till we hit the check out line. What is important about our private lives is not that there is necessarily anything unique, risque, dangerous or even interesting about our lives- its just the fact that the right to maintain our privacy was about all that we could control in this world. Or so we thought. Now none of us is special; we are all just so much data fodder for an insatiable monster. A sad time.