13 August 2007

A Scanner Darkly

The Internet Movie Database: A Scanner Darkly

What does a scanner see? Into the head? Into the heart?
Does it see into me? Clearly? Or darkly?

"If they do not get the permanent card, they cannot live here, they cannot get government benefits, and that is a way for the government to control the population in the future."

Remember all those science fiction films/books showcasing police states that feature retina or face recognition scanners? Well, the future has arrived:

At least 20,000 police surveillance cameras are being installed along streets here in southern China and will soon be guided by sophisticated computer software from an American-financed company to recognize automatically the faces of police suspects and detect unusual activity.

Starting this month in a port neighborhood and then spreading across Shenzhen, a city of 12.4 million people, residency cards fitted with powerful computer chips programmed by the same company will be issued to most citizens.

Data on the chip will include not just the citizen's name and address but also work history, educational background, religion, ethnicity, police record, medical insurance status and landlord's phone number. Even personal reproductive history will be included, for enforcement of China's controversial "one child" policy. Plans are being studied to add credit histories, subway travel payments and small purchases charged to the card.
The article in yesterday's New York Times goes on to note that "New York police announced last month that they would install more than 100 security cameras to monitor license plates in Lower Manhattan by the end of the year. Police officials also said they hoped to obtain financing to establish links to 3,000 public and private cameras in the area by the end of next year; no decision has been made on whether face recognition technology has become reliable enough to use without the risk of false arrests."

What do you think? How do you feel about Britain's "surveillance society" and the prospect of face recognition software being used to enhance the power of the 4,000,000+ CCTV cameras already operating across the country? Are civil rights activists right to fear that cameras are a violation of the right of privacy contained in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights? What about identity cards? Are you happy to pay the Government to track your movements in the name of improved security?


The Stonemason said...

It is hard to argue against allowing police the use of technology when they are trying to catch a criminal such as a murderer, drug-runner, rapist or such like. But when the same technology can be turned against the dissenter such as the climate change protester, the monk protecting his sacred cow or the anti-religious comedian, whose viewpoint has been criminalised by Act of Parliament; then what has been designed to protect us becomes the instrument of our oppression. A society which is rigid in its thinking and uses the instruments of a police state to enforce its ideology comes under great strain from within and increasingly unable to cope with pressure from without. Its end is either internal collapse and revolution or overthrow. The news from China should be welcomed here as the people of China will not tolerate the new methods being put in place to enforce their conformity to Communist party rules, it hastens the day of the Party's downfall. Here in the West we would do well to avoid such methods and keep our belief that ultimately freedom is of higher value than security.