For the last few years, police forces around China have invested heavily to build the world's largest video surveillance and facial recognition system, incorporating more than 170 million cameras so far. In a December test of the dragnet in Guiyang, a city of 4.3 million people in southwest China, a BBC reporter was flagged for arrest within seven minutes of police adding his headshot to a facial recognition database. And in the southeast city of Nanchang, Chinese police say that last month they arrested a suspect wanted for "economic crimes" after a facial recognition system spotted him at a pop concert amidst 60,000 other attendees. These types of stories, combined with reports that computer vision recognizes some types of images more accurately than humans, makes it seem like the Panopticon has officially arrived. In the US alone, 117 million Americans, or roughly one in two US adults, have their picture in a law enforcement facial-recognition database.
HOUSTON – An arriving passenger uses a biometric scanner at George H. W. Bush Intercontinental Airport February 1, 2008 in Houston, Texas. Under President Donald Trump, technology companies have started cashing in on a little-noticed government push to ramp up the use of biometric tools -- such as fingerprinting and iris scanners -- to track people who enter and exit the country. Silicon Valley firms that specialize in data collection are taking advantage of a provision tucked into Mr. Trump's executive order on immigration, which included his controversial travel ban, that called for the completion of a "Biometric Entry-Exit Tracking System" for screening travelers entering and leaving the United States. The tracking system was mandated in a 1996 immigration law passed by Congress but never fully implemented by Trump's past three predecessors. In Trump's first months in office, federal courts blocked the sections of his original and revised immigration orders that called for a temporary travel ban on visitors from seven majority Muslim countries.
Amazon.com pitched its facial-recognition system in the summer to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials as a way for the agency to target or identify immigrants, a move that could shove the tech giant further into a growing debate over the industry's work with the government. The June meeting in Silicon Valley was revealed in emails as part of a Freedom of Information Act request by the advocacy group Project on Government Oversight; the emails were published first in the Daily Beast. They show that officials from ICE and Amazon Web Services talked about implementing the company's Rekognition face-scanning platform to assist with homeland security investigations. An Amazon Web Services official who specializes in federal sales contracts, and whose name was redacted in the emails, wrote that the conversation involved "predictive analytics" and "Rekognition Video tagging/analysis" that could possibly allow ICE to identify people's faces from afar -- a type of technology immigration officials have voiced interest in for its potential enforcement use on the southern border. "We are ready and willing to support the vital (Homeland Security Investigations) mission," the Amazon official wrote.
A former Facebook executive is spearheading a new Silicon Valley startup that hopes to build a digital wall at the US-Mexico border. Palmer Luckey, the 25-year-old who led Facebook's virtual reality unit Oculus, has now launched a firm focused on merging defense and consumer tech. Called Anduril Industries, the company is now working with Customs and Border Protection in California to test out its virtual wall, which has already found some success, according to Wired. Anduril has also set up several towers, equipped with antennas and other sensors, at a ranch in Texas to test out out the technology. There, the firm has constructed three, portable 32ft towers with radar, antenna and laser-enhanced cameras, as part of a system its calling Lattice, Wired noted.
SAN FRANCISCO – Alphabet Inc. is pushing efforts to roll back the most comprehensive biometric privacy law in the U.S., even as the company and its peers face heightened scrutiny after the unauthorized sharing of data at Facebook Inc. While Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg were publicly apologizing this month for failing to protect users' information, Google's lobbyists were drafting measures to de-fang an Illinois law recognized as the most rigorous consumer privacy statute in the country. Their ambition: to strip language from a decade-old policy that regulates the use of fingerprints, iris scans and facial recognition technology, and insert a loophole for companies embracing the use of biometrics. Google is trying to exempt photos from the Illinois law at a time when it's fighting a lawsuit in the state that threatens billions of dollars in potential damages. The world's largest search engine is facing claims that it violated the privacy of millions of users by gathering and storing biometric data without their consent.