On December 22, 2009, I wrote — The Whiteness of Technology — and how HP were discriminating against certain racial features.
We are a nation of masks — we repress our true feelings and protect our basic being. On the surface, we claim we are all equal and that skin color doesn’t matter and that technology is agnostic, non-atavistic, non-discriminatory and non-evangelistic. Today, we have been forced to know better by peeking out from behind our masks to divine the reality before us.
I recently read an alarming article about the FBI spending over a billion dollars so they can casually — and causally! — recognize your face on any street corner or alleyway in which you might find yourself… mugshot on file… or not:
Another application would be the reverse: images of a person of interest from security cameras or public photos uploaded onto the internet could be compared against a national repository of images held by the FBI. An algorithm would perform an automatic search and return a list of potential hits for an officer to sort through and use as possible leads for an investigation.
Ideally, such technological advancements will allow law enforcement to identify criminals more accurately and lead to quicker arrests. But privacy advocates are worried by the broad scope of the FBI’s plans. They are concerned that people with no criminal record who are caught on camera alongside a person of interest could end up in a federal database, or be subject to unwarranted surveillance.
In my War Mask article from February of this year, I wondered if our faces really make up who we are or not:
If we are not our bodies — are we are faces? Or are we just strings of genetic material that can sometimes single us out of a series of billions of slightly similar strands? Before we allow eye color changes to become elective surgery and before a military biomask becomes a Black Market alternative to changing faces, we must wrestle with the idea of what identity really means and how we can continue to prove who we are to others as the line between reality and imagination begins to blur into unrecognizability.
I am dismayed at the purposeful gnawing away of our privacy by a government sworn to protect our liberties. Can you imagine the silent subpoenas that will be served to our wireless carriers when we begin to use facial recognition algorithms to login to our smartphones and tablets? The FBI won’t have to build any databases because the cellular companies will do all the uploading and parsing work for them!
Is it too late for us to disconnect and try to pry back some of our privacy? Or have we already lost any sense of fairness and honesty when it comes to remaining private in public? Sure, we have eyes staring down at us from two miles in the air, but I wonder if any of us are really any safer for the effort. Recognizing our faces doesn’t really prevent any crime — all it does is help raise suspicion against us in the future as our nose and eyes and lips all fall into a “close enough” match for that child predator and terrorist on the loose among us.