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Your Face Looks Familiar August 17, 2019

Posted by Peter Varhol in Technology and Culture.
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I fly a lot, including internationally.  I am very cognizant that I am likely on CCTV cameras on the streets or in shops or buildings minutes after leaving my home.  And it troubles me that I am under surveillance almost constantly in public places.

It gets worse with face recognition. I wrote recently that a vendor has proposed using facial recognition software to identify and track individual people in Manhattan as a part of the congestion pricing plan.  Today, airlines are using facial recognition to streamline the flow of passengers through airports (paywall).  That’s not a bad goal to anyone who has found themselves in long and slow-moving check-in or boarding processes.  The airlines argue that by using facial IDs as opposed to checking passports and boarding passes, planes can board ten percent more quickly.

But it is creepy, at least to me.

Yet to some extent I’ve brought this on myself.  While I don’t live in a major city, I don’t live in a rural area where cameras would be difficult to use (unlike where I was born and raised).  I have a government-issued Real ID driver’s license and passport.  I use Global Entry, where my photo is taken whenever I use an Immigration kiosk.  Online, I try to limit the use of my photo, but the conferences I speak at insist on including my photo with my abstract and bio.

To my knowledge, I don’t commit law infractions that cameras and face recognition software would generally be useful at catching.  Okay, I speed, but stay comfortably within the flow of traffic.  I don’t drive recklessly or run traffic lights.  I don’t shoplift or rob banks.  What does it matter to me who’s looking?

From the standpoint of committing a crime or traffic infraction, it probably doesn’t.  But there are a number of secondary effects.  The data can be stolen and used in identity theft, as so much data is today.  It can be sold to third parties to market to travelers, or combined with other data to identify people for other purposes.

I’m old enough such that any use of my photo for identification purposes may not be a disaster.  Various versions of my photos are already available online.  But I am concerned for the generation growing up today.  If all they know is constant surveillance, how will they be able to make and learn from the mistakes of youth without penalty?

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