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.
This Tuesday Apple unveiled a new line of phones to much fanfare, but one feature immediately fell under scrutiny: FaceID, a tool that would use facial recognition to identify individuals and unlock their phones. Jake Laperruque (@jakelaperruque) is senior counsel for privacy and security issues at The Constitution Project. He previously served as a fellow for New America's Open Technology Institute and The Center for Democracy and Technology. Unsurprisingly, this raised major anxiety about consumer privacy given its profound ramifications: Retailers already crave facial recognition to monitor consumers, and without legally binding terms, Apple could use FaceID to track consumer patterns at its stores, or develop and sell data to others. It's also possible that police would be able to more easily unlock phones without consent by simply holding an individual's phone up to his or her face.
SHANGHAI--A Chinese startup that sells facial recognition systems to police forces secured venture-capital funding that values it at more than $1.5 billion, underscoring the sector's emergence as one of technology's hottest areas of interest. Beijing-based SenseTime Co., which provides surveillance systems using facial recognition to Chinese law enforcement agencies, said Tuesday it raised $410 million in new funding from investors, lifting it to so-called unicorn status with a value of more than $1 billion. Using artificial intelligence, facial recognition systems from SenseTime and others can identify people in a crowd by matching their faces against those on file in image databases. Facial recognition works by breaking down a person's face into a series of measurements and using them to create a template that can be compared with others in a database. In China, adoption has been especially swift, aided by a large network of surveillance cameras, a national photo ID index and relatively few concerns about privacy.
There is no technical reason why a nation could not load its population into a watchlist and attempt to track them constantly in real time, but NEC Europe head of Global Face Recognition Solutions Chris de Silva says such a system would throw out too many false positives. "You can do it, you can try to do it, it's just not going to give you much useful information," he said on Tuesday at the NEC Advanced Recognition Systems Experience. "One of the things that you cannot realistically do is put a population into a database, and do real-time surveillance." According to de Silva, the simple reason why a system would fail is because with a large list of people to track, too many people look alike. "We don't notice it, we don't see millions of people in one shot ... but how many times have people walked down the street following somebody that they thought was somebody they knew, only to find it isn't that person?" he told ZDNet.