Since the attention on citizens privacy has been heightened by the noise surrounding the PRISM surveillance program that is said to involve giant Internet companies (which they deny) and the U.S government, it is interesting to know that facial photos collected by states to fight driver license forgery now number 120 million and are routinely used in the context of police investigations. The Washington post published a story on this matter. The mere fact that the police is using this is nothing new as we’ve all seen this in a TV show at some point, but the scope, frequency and convenience of these databases is rising fast.
Back in the days, a detective could ask for a DMV (department of motor vehicle) photo to identify a suspect. With today’s more sophisticated facial recognition, the information could be available before the detective had time to pick up the phone, and this could even work in real-time from a live camera footage. Cities such as London already have a sophisticated facial recognition system which can track suspects in real-time across a network of cameras.
Some people are very concerned about the blurring between public and criminal databases. They fear that the government should not have the power to identify anyone, anywhere – without a probable cause. The fear is that in time, this could be misused and eventually get in the way of free speech. It’s true that most dictatorships dream about this kind of technology, but as it is the case with all technologies, they can be wrongly used. In my opinion, the biggest danger comes from the fact that lawmakers often have little clue about how they are working which makes them prime target for industry lobbies.
In the end, the question is how much power we want to give our own government and how accountable it is. Some fear that too much surveillance technology and data may lead to a police state. Others say that it is necessary in order to achieve an efficient law enforcement. What’s your take on this?