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Your Face Is Not a Bar Code 292

Posted by michael
from the every-move-you-make dept.
Phil Agre has a solid essay opposing automatic face recognition systems in public areas. These uses are only going to increase, because the technology is cheap (enough) and appealing to authorities everywhere; it's good to have some arguments to hand for opposing the spread of the cameras.
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Your Face Is Not a Bar Code

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  • by purduephotog (218304) <[moc.tibroni] [ta] [hcsrih]> on Saturday September 08, 2001 @10:07AM (#2267073) Homepage Journal
    Just because law enforcement would like to use it for catching criminals doesn't mean it can't be used for good.

    Think about it- Similiar to Gates's house- walk into a room, machine recognizes your face (instead of the pin) and changes your pictures on the wall to suit.

    Authenticate your identity online to prevent fraud (although, some Celebs might have trouble with that... 3 million elvis's ... :P

    Search your high school yearbook- search old newspaper clippings...

    And.... catch some known pedophile that's broken parole.

    It's a great technology for those who don't run afoul of the law... but... the power and lack of regulation are very worrying.
  • Face recognition (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 08, 2001 @10:08AM (#2267076)
    It's not all bad, though.

    Automatic surveillance would release police resources, which are currently being stretched to the limit, to more useful purposes like responding quickly to emergencies.

    It's surprising to see how anti-law enforcement the /. crowd really is. The only thing that's keeping you, your families and your property safe is a robust law enforcement system. Without law enforcement your precious computers and consoles would be stolen in no time.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 08, 2001 @10:33AM (#2267155)
    The only thing that's keeping you, your families and your property safe is a robust law enforcement system

    This is the basic arguement of every attack on civil liberties. The job of the police is not to protect the citizens, it is to enforce the law only. The responsibility of protecting "you, your families and your property" is yours. This responsibility can not be deligated to the government in a free society.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 08, 2001 @10:35AM (#2267160)
    Nobody here is any-law enforcement.

    We can all read history and know that police will over time become facist. We all saw the Rodney King video .

    We see and the need to control is inherent in the makeup of people who become policemen.

    We understand the "war on drugs" has been used as an excuse to steal property without due process.

    We see its obvious that police use radar and laser tools to raise revenue.

    We know too well that police will stop people they don't like to hassle them.

    We read the paper where a county in suburban Washington DC routinely kills minorities on traffic stops.

    We understand that cops are underpaid public servants with a big gun and a napoleon complex.

    We understand the "war on drugs" has been an excuse for police departments to expand their budgets and authority.

    We see this fall Washington DC police will be making the city into an armed camp because peaceful demonstrations will be taking place. Policemen see this as a direct assault on their authority and are itching to use mace and clubs on a bunch of kids.

    So please don't presume to lecture us.
  • by Bocaj (84920) on Saturday September 08, 2001 @10:36AM (#2267164) Homepage
    A security guard recognises a criminal from a mug shot on one of his cameras. He might be right, or mistaken. He'll have to check to be sure.

    A piece of software flags a person as a criminal. It might be right or mistaken. It will have to let the security guard check it out to be sure.

    The only difference is now one guard can handle more cameras better. The same with finger print software. You can check more fingerprints faster. The crime labs have used those for years. A human eye must still be the ultimate authority, the computer narrows the field a bit.

  • countermeasures (Score:2, Insightful)

    by xah (448501) on Saturday September 08, 2001 @10:42AM (#2267179) Homepage
    This face recognition scare can be put to rest if Madison Avenue just decides that the newest fashion trend will be masks. Yes, masks. We will all wear masquerade garb. It will be facial encryption.

    Another alternative would be to figure out how to send an electronic signal of someone else's bone structure into the camera eye of the facial recognition device, perhaps with the use of an altered laser pen-like device.

    Admittedly, this is all fantasy and science fiction. But I don't think speculation hurts us at this point.

  • by AtomicBomb (173897) on Saturday September 08, 2001 @10:46AM (#2267191) Homepage
    I agree most of the applications that you suggested are quite valid, but the crucial point is not in a public area...

    Gate's House is not a public place, authenticate my identity when shopping online implies that I am sitting behind *my* computer, old newpaper clippings do not show my jelly belly when I was sunbathing at the local beach.... Catch my point?

  • by jageryager (189071) on Saturday September 08, 2001 @10:52AM (#2267212)
    It's surprising to see how anti-law enforcement the /. crowd really is. The only thing that's keeping you,
    your families and your property safe is a robust law enforcement system. Without law enforcement your
    precious computers and consoles would be stolen in no time.
    NO! NO! NO! The robust law enforcement is not keeping me, or my family, or my property safe from all the scumbags out there. All the police can do is swing by after the fact to collect evidence, and pick up the bodies. It is not their job to protect us, in spite of how many movie plots that have police guarding people.

    They actually spend a lot of time beating us down. Here in NY, USA we have zero tolerance for seat belt offenders, with police roadblocks for enforcement. In USA the Federal Gov't has most law enforcement spending a majority of their time chasing victimless criminals like pot smokers.

    Ask yourself how much you will like the new "law enforcement" tool when it is used to beat you down? Your kid took a spin on his bike without a helmet, so you have endangered his welfare and are arrested. You or someone who looks like you are seen buying wine regularly so you must be watched closely just in case you happen to drive drunk. You or someone who looks like you attend a Libertarian conference so you deserve a little extra harassment just for being different. You look a lot like a real badguy so you and your family are held at gunpoint will you get arrested every time you go into a public place.


  • by jageryager (189071) on Saturday September 08, 2001 @11:21AM (#2267339)
    I have nothing but intense disgust for officers who abuse their authority
    and power to beat people down.

    I have had personal encounters with police:

    - pulled over and harrassed for running a yellow light at 4 AM on my
    way home from work. I was assumed to be drunk. And was allowed to
    procede with a $50 ticket for a marginally loud exhaust.

    - pulled over and harrassed for "eratic driving" on my way home from
    work at 11:30 pm. Assumed to be drunk. Questioned for 10 minutes.
    Finally released after volunteering to take the breath test.

    - Obnoxious police officers directing traffic during a parade.
    Office refused to let some cars pass even after 10 minutes of waiting.

    - Obnoxious police giving me a ticket for a loud muffler when he SAW
    the exhaust damage happen right in front of him.

    When a cop pulls a car over for running a yellow light, or for not coming
    to a comeplete stop at stop sign, in a sleepy rural one light town at 4
    AM, when there is no else around, he is doing one thing and one thing
    only. He is being obnoxious.

    Police are people. Some good and some bad. Most people are
    not pure. I don't want anyone to have anymore power over me than
    absolutely neccessary. The bad things I hear and see, and have experienced
    have soured me.


  • by dragons_flight (515217) on Saturday September 08, 2001 @11:37AM (#2267404) Homepage
    Is anyone else struck by the similarity in argumentation for creating DMCA and that for limiting face recognition?

    Parts of DMCA were written because those with the power to do so believed people couldn't be trusted with technology. In that case the technology to break copyrights and hence illegally spread copyrighted material.

    Now we are sitting back and use the same arguments ourselves that we can't trust the people in charge to make reasonable use of facial recognition technology, or to limit the system in response to privacy and rights concerns.

    Obviously both scenarios bring up rights issues which differ significantly, but the arguments for DMCA and against facial recognition rarely focus on these. As you might notice 5 of Arge's 7 main points against facial recognition rest on the potential for abuse or considerable privacy invasion (linking such systems to information about average people).

    Perhaps this is the nature of society and we really can't trust enough people to be responsible when it comes to the oppurtunities new technology gives us. Frankly though if that's true, it says something sad about the state of the world we've made for ourselves.

    Personally I feel that both DMCA and facial recognition software benefit legitimate concerns and can serve a useful purpose. If properly legislated in an enforcable way then it should be possible to strike a balance between the varying concerns. That's not to say that DMCA as currently constructed couldn't use revision or that facial recognition should grow unchecked.

    Ultimately, if we are going to make arguments, then we need to be consistent. Either we accept or reject the argument that people will abuse new technologies on a wide scale. From there we decide how the issue plays out with respect to human rights concerns. Beware of people that will dismiss your concerns in one setting and then champion them in another setting. (For the record I don't know if Ager does this since I can't recall hearing arguments from him about DMCA, but I know some organizations certainly have put forth contradictory arguments when it serves their purpose.)
  • Wider applications (Score:3, Insightful)

    by presearch (214913) on Saturday September 08, 2001 @12:16PM (#2267580)
    C'mon you geeks... Think past the base application.

    There's a lot more that the system could do than
    just perform spot identification. Say you are
    walking down the street with another "face" on
    the list, now -you- get the bit set that you are
    associating with known criminals, even if that's
    not known to you. Now, that you are on the list,
    anybody that you're seen with is a possible

    The system can also be used to watch a certain
    place and track who goes there. Go to a pr0n shop
    that sells materials that border on pedophilia,
    data mine that against your M$ passport account
    that shows your net activity and that you've
    got a 10 year old that also uses the machine.
    Guiliy by triangulation.

    I'm sure your employer would want to know that
    you head to the corner bar every day after
    work and stay for 2.3 hours.
    After all, they have the right to protect their
    profits by eliminating those with potential

    Data mining against cameras watching a poling
    place on election day, correlating against the
    sequence of votes cast brings up all kinds of
    intriguing possibilities for those eager to
    manipulate the process and influence future

    As the software gets more sophisticated, it
    could not only track you but also look at how
    your image varies from your template. Eyes seem
    a little red? Gait is a little unsteady?
    Better set that bit and flag them for a closer

    Say you are a congressman and one day your
    girlfriend comes up missing...uh, forget that.

    This shit is as dangerous as it is inevitable.

  • by diverman (55324) on Saturday September 08, 2001 @02:53PM (#2268383)
    I think that is one of they key points. It's in public where I feel privacy is being invaded. That sounds like a strange comment, but it's accurate.

    Privacy seems to be extended to included a variable of time. if someone sees me at the gas station, it's no big deal. If someone sees me at the pool, it's no big deal. If someone has a record of the exact times I did anything... that's a big deal. I think one of the biggest dangers is if identification is logged, along with location and other details.

    With today's AI and data processing technologies, it could be frightening how easy it would be to find out every bit of information about someone.

    This goes along similarly with my opinion on Marketting. Recording details about spending habits and interests of different demographics is one thing... but when they start using that information to approach the individuals directly... that seems like it has gone too far.

    Using such information is good, as long as it stays as a statistical analysis tool... not as a tracking tool. Facial recognition and just WHAT is marked in some record might fall along similar lines.

  • Re:I'm confused (Score:2, Insightful)

    by gig (78408) on Saturday September 08, 2001 @04:35PM (#2268687)

    Tell me again, what's wrong with catching criminals? I'm lost here. I always thought that catching the "bad guys" was a good thing

    Yeah, but "catching the bad guys" is only a small part of what law enforcement does in America today. Most of the people who are currently in prison (over 2 million now, up from 1 million in 1990) are there because they did something that the aristocracy and/or religious leadership disapproves of, not because they harmed another person or another person's property. The law books are cluttered with unconstitutional garbage from every Tom, Dick, and Jerry Falwell who has come along in the last couple of hundred years. The "so help me God" that was recently tacked on to the Presidential Oath of Office is a fairly innocuous example, and the Drug War is a vicious example. Even so, we are only jailing or killing a small minority of pot smokers, rave dancers, migrant farm workers and their families, homosexuals, alternative political party members, etc.

    The reason that it's controversial every time the cops get a new toy is because the new toy will result in a greater percentage of innocent people being arrested for peacefully, responsibly, and consensually gambling, having sex, using certain medicines, holding certain beliefs, having certain customs, enjoying certain kinds of art, etc. while they enjoy their God-given and Constitutionally recognized freedom. People who would have been left alone a year ago, or two years ago, or 20 years ago are being arrested today because of new technologies. If you are currently arresting 10% of the pot smokers, and new technology enables you to arrest 20% of them instead, that's hundreds of thousands of people who are going to get arrested, lose their homes and jobs, etc. because they smoke a little pot on weekends. Of course, you can only arrest as many as you can build prisons for, so new technologies like facial recognition also help to drive new prison growth.

    If facial recognition in public places catches on, the authorities will be careful to fill the first hundred successful arrests with murderers and rapists, and the first hundred rescues will be missing children and old people and dogs. Then when the press dies down, they'll come for the peaceful ones by the thousands. It's way, way too easy to arrest peaceful people than violent people in great numbers, guaranteeing more funds for more toys and cops next year, and screw the Constitution and any sense of fair play, tolerance, or basic respect.

    I recommend that you read Peter McWilliam's "Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do", which is a definitive look at consensual crimes in America. Get it at your favorite bookstore or look at it on the Web:

    Peter McWilliams' Web Site []

  • by gig (78408) on Saturday September 08, 2001 @04:52PM (#2268763)
    > rare

    More than half of the prison population in America are there because of consensual crime laws. These are "crimes" that don't have victims. The victim's place at trial is empty. The accused is a fag, or Jew, or hippie, or crack addict, or nigger, or hacker, or terrorist, or communist, or atheist, or drug lord, etc. etc. etc. and the jury convicts him of being such. Or, the accused CONSPIRED with one or more of the following: fags, Jews, hippies, crack addicts, niggers, hackers, terrorists, communists, atheists, drug lords, etc. etc. which is even easier to be convicted of.

    Every time you hear about the Drug War remember that each and every arrest involves a sting of some sort. The cops are the only ones involved who act deceitfully. Everyone else is quite honestly either selling or buying drugs, because they need to be sold and bought no matter what Jerry Falwell says. The cops are not the good guys when it comes to consensual crimes. Using force and deceit on people who have not themselves used force or deceit is a real crime.

    > and extreme

    Extreme describes the state of law enforcement in America precisely. They've been getting free training from the military for 10 years now, and it shows. They inflict mindless and hateful damage on the country at every turn, while it's just as easy to get away with murder or rape as it ever was. The money and glamor are all in underground drugs. You get promoted and paid off for punishing "sinners" not criminals.
  • by IronChef (164482) on Sunday September 09, 2001 @03:51AM (#2270168) Homepage
    The cops are the only ones involved who act deceitfully. Everyone else is quite honestly either selling or buying drugs...

    Horsefeathers. There are plenty of drug-related violent crimes. Some people steal to get the cash for their next fix. In some of these crimes, innocent people are hurt or killed. Rival criminal organizations fight, and plenty of violent crime happens that way.

    Doing drugs in your home seems harmless to society as a whole, but only if you take the narrow view. When you look at the whole supply chain there is a terrible cost. Don't make all drug crime out to be victimless. It isn't.

    When gangs go to war and start blowing each other away over some drug-dealing dispute, I could care less... except when innocent people get caught in the crossfire. And it does happen.

    Hear this: if you buy drugs you contribute to the economy of violent crime. That kid on the evening news, that was hit by a stray bullet during some gang fight? Well, if you buy drugs in that city, there's a chance that you helped to kill him. You contributed to the underground economy. You keep the pusher on the street, that brings in the gang muscle, that gives free tastes to the schoolkids.

    You can go on and say that The Establishment is causing the harm too, by making drugs illegal. Fine. That is a point I am willing to discuss. I think that legalization is a worthy topic. But don't try to make yourself or other drug users look blameless. The Man isn't causing all the problems. Drug users cause their share too. Have the balls to admit it.

I tell them to turn to the study of mathematics, for it is only there that they might escape the lusts of the flesh. -- Thomas Mann, "The Magic Mountain"