Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Facial recognition tracking, now in churches!

According to this article, there are now 30 or more "mega-churches" in the USA using facial recognition software to identify people for purposes ranging from fundraising to... whatever the hell they want to do with it.

We know that Facebook has a vast facial recognition database so good that it can recognize you when your face is hidden, that the FBI has built a millions-strong criminal facial recognition system, and that Google's new Photos app is so effective at face recognition that it can identify now-adults in photos from their childhood. But now facial recognition is starting to pop up in weird and unexpected places: at music festivals (to identify criminals); at stadiums (to weed out "sports troublemakers") and at churches. Yes, churches.

Moshe Greenshpan, the CEO of Israel- and Las Vegas-based facial recognition software company Face-Six, says there are 30 churches around the world using his Churchix technology. He launched the service just four months ago and says churches are already using it to scan congregants' earthly visages to keep track of attendance at events in order to know who wasn't there so they can check up on them, or who attends most frequently so they can ask those people for donations. He declined to name any of the churches using the technology citing the controversy around facial recognition. I asked him if any of the churches are based in Texas or Illinois, the only two U.S. states that have laws on the books about getting permission to collect peoples' faceprints. "I prefer not to say," said Greenshpan.

(If a facial expression-detecting camera were trained on my own face, it would read "skeptical." Without being able to talk to one of the churches using this technology, it's impossible to verify Greenshpan's claims.)

Ok, granted it may be a smoke-and-mirrors sales pitch. However the reporter, Kashmir Hill, seems more concerned that there is "no controlling legal authority" than the fact of this software's existence.

"There are no federal laws that specifically govern the use of facial recognition technology," wrote Ben Sobel in a Washington Post editorial that discussed the only two states with relevant laws on the books. In lieu of a law, the Department of Commerce has been trying to establish facial recognition industry standards in a "privacy multistakeholder process." For more than a year, industrial representatives and privacy advocates have been taking part in negotiations to come up with standards for how facial recognition should be deployed by businesses in the U.S. Last week, those negotiations broke down. Privacy groups involved in the process, including the ACLU and EFF, withdrew, saying in a letter that companies refused to agree to core principles of privacy.

Me, I don't worry so much that there's no controlling legal authority.  For me, having been brought up in a town where we all knew each other, the question is more about if this is going to increase or decrease the stress in my life, and damage my already rapidly eroding personal freedom.

We know two things about government and private surveillance in general. The first thing is that the amount of information available to authorities and large companies on any individual's movements and personal habits is virtually complete. They can know every place you have been and everything you have bought for the trouble of doing a quick database search. Target Inc. can know if your daughter is pregnant before you do.

The second thing we know is that IT DOESN'T REDUCE CRIME. At all. In the slightest. Britain literally has a CCD camera on every street corner and half the fence posts in the country. Their crime "clear-up" rate is complete crap and getting worse every year despite the fact that they really do know every goddamn thing you do every day.

The thing we know about government and data privacy is that they suck at it. Any data on you that the government has is most likely going to leak in the next ten years or less by my seat-of-the-pants prognostication. That means tax records, medical records, criminal records, phone records, you name it.

The thing we know about computer technology is that it always only ever gets cheaper and cheaper. Twenty years ago speech recognition was a fantastically expensive lab toy, now its on your phone. Facial recognition is a very expensive data-mining tool this year, in ten years or less it will be a phone ap. You'll be able to take a picture of a crowd and have names for every face in it, and probably comments and credit scores too. Everybody will know your business.

Or nobody will, because Very Important People may not like having random strangers identifying them and buttonholing them at Starbucks first thing in the morning.

In the mean time I predict a new fashion trend: masks and hoods.

The Phantom

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