A shocking report of “Big Brother” techniques being used by the FBI, ICE, and other federal law enforcement agencies is drawing harsh rebuke from both sides of the political aisle as lawmakers condemn the unauthorized use of state driver’s license photos in facial recognition searches. But there’s a problem with the biggest argument against the practice. They’re claiming it’s an issue of consent, but the real issue is access to vast stores of personal data whether consent is given or not.
The real threat is not law enforcement but government entities themselves.
Consent is a funny thing. The rise of digital, mobile, and internet technologies over the last three decades has made the vast majority of Americans complacent about what we consent to have done with our data. How often do we check the box marked “I have read and agree…” without actually reading it? We gave consent, but do we know what we’re consenting to when we click “Next”?
But digital safety is a different discussion altogether. The play by politicians in both parties to frame this as a consent issue is a legal concept for legal minds who are out of touch with what the people understand and who don’t fully appreciate the implications of the actions by law enforcement. I would posit that most Americans assumed their driver’s license photos are part of a database accessible by law enforcement and therefore searchable. Technically, it is, but it’s the use of facial recognition software that has lawmakers up in arms. When robots and AI enter into an equation, DC rightly bristles but for the wrong reasons.
We have to start looking at what the future holds as technology outpaces the government’s ability to reconcile it against laws. San Francisco took the step of banning facial recognition software for law enforcement altogether. Is this the right approach? Are law enforcement agencies the real target for our privacy angst? No. It’s the government itself that is the biggest risk to our privacy and security. By keeping law enforcement out of the mix, they’re setting up a society that allows various government entities to have access to these types of technologies without law enforcement looking over their shoulders.
I’m less fearful of law enforcement excluding me from their list of suspects through facial recognition software than the various government bodies outside of law enforcement using similar spying technologies to track me. That’s the real threat as society heads towards dependency on government for all our worldly desires. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a fan of having my information searchable by law enforcement’s robots, either. But this uproar from DC, San Francisco, and others who are addressing the issue is opening them up to have even more control over our lives than they already do.
China’s “social credit scoring” may seem unlikely to ever reach America, but one needs only look at the recent rise of other authoritarian ideas like socialism in America’s collective psyche to realize things are changing rapidly. What the government can do with facial recognition software is a far greater danger than how law enforcement is currently using it.
We need to address the issues today and the coming issues of tomorrow as technology continues to outpace the means by which the people can control it. Government pointing at law enforcement’s sins is the pot calling the kettle black.
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