There used to be a time when an Australian could fly to New York and be imbued with the power to predict the fashion and hair cuts that would appear on Sydney or Melbourne streets in the upcoming year. On Thursday, Australia's state and territory leaders agreed to link their systems, and thereby create a national federated database of biometric passport and driver's licence photo data. Far from protecting the electorate's civil liberties -- which, unlike many other modern nations, are not written down and only exist in feelings, vibes, and the whims of the High Court -- the state premiers piled on and were only too proud of the technological terror to be constructed. "In my judgement, it would be unforgivable to not make changes like that when the technology is available, the competence, the know-how, and safeguards are available to effect that change," Victorian Premier Dan Andrews said. Australia in 2017 is a place where the political discourse allows Parliament to abrogate and outsource responsibilities on equality, yet the final step to create a technology-driven system of constant visual surveillance is waved through as routine.
If you're reading this in the United States, there's a 50 percent chance that a photo of your face is in at least one database used in police facial-recognition systems. Police departments in nearly half of U.S. states can use facial-recognition software to compare surveillance images with databases of ID photos or mugshots. Some departments only use facial-recognition to confirm the identity of a suspect who's been detained; others continuously analyze footage from surveillance cameras to determine exactly who is walking by at any particular moment. Altogether, more than 117 million American adults are subject to face-scanning systems. These findings were published Tuesday in a report from Georgetown Law's Center for Privacy and Technology.
Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy, and society. Remember when Amazon mostly just sold books? Since its founding in 1994, the sprawling online marketplace has ballooned into one of the most powerful companies in the world. Now Amazon offers batteries, clothes, milk and eggs, hosting for your website, streaming movies--and now real-time facial recognition powers for police surveillance. In November 2016, Amazon released a new service called Rekognition, which can "process millions of photos a day" to identify people and objects in the images.
The FBI maintains a huge database of more than 411m photos culled from sources including driver's licenses, passport applications and visa applications, which it cross-references with photos of criminal suspects using largely untested and questionably accurate facial recognition software. A study from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released on Wednesday for the first time revealed the extent of the program, which had been queried several years before through a Freedom of Information Act request from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). The GAO, a watchdog office internal to the US federal government, found that the FBI did not appropriately disclose the database's impact on public privacy until it audited the bureau in May. The office recommended that the attorney general determine why the FBI did not obey the disclosure requirements, and that it conduct accuracy tests to determine whether the software is correctly cross-referencing driver's licenses and passport photos with images of criminal suspects. The Department of Justice "disagreed" with three of the GAO's six recommendations, according to the office, which affirmed their validity.
American law enforcement agencies have created a massive facial recognition database. If you're an adult in the US, you might already be in it. According to a comprehensive report by the Center for Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law, the law enforcement's database has 117 million American adults on file. The report says authorities used driver's license IDs from 26 states to build the database, which includes people who've never committed any kind of crime before. That's already a problem in and of itself, but it's compounded by the lack of oversight on how it's used.