8 July 2001.


Recent news rattling about on the internet concerns "face recognition software" which is being used by public authorities in Florida, Virginia and Colorado.  The issue has stimulated howls from "civil libertarians" (who in Australia are mostly lawyers) about "privacy".

SPIN (as an ordinary libertarian) does not entirely agree with their concerns.

Privacy is something that is obtained in private places.  On your own property you may install walls and keep prying eyes out.  (Incidentally, SPIN believes the there should be huge fines and gaol terms for anybody found invading home privacy by emplacement of spy devices.).  Privacy is the right to have a secret and not be forced to disclose it.

The UK has lost the battle for privacy since enaction of the "regulation of investigatory powers act".  That law makes it a jail offense for any UK citizen to write down any secret that the police cannot read.

In public people should be able to do as they like, so long as that activity does not infringe on other's right to do the same.  It has always been a public right to see and recognize others in public.  Face recognition software is a mere enhancement of that ability.

If a person wishes public anonymity, nothing prevents them from wearing a mask.  Of course that might present social interaction difficulties, but if privacy is required, then inconvenience must be suffered.  That inconvenience would be less than the sum of inconvenience that would be suffered by other citizens if an effort were made to enforce a prohibition on all imaging equipment in public.

The public database (paid for with taxpayer's funds) showing the instantaneous location and past movements of all citizens captured on public cameras should be publicly available for free.  Looking forward into the future, it can be anticipated that (with sufficient cameras) it would be possible to track every citizen of Australia (or the USA).  Wives would be able to locate and track husbands, and vice versa.  Parents could obtain warning if any known pederast was in the vicinity, or be warned if anyone (including an unlisted pederast) was watching their children (because the records of queries to the database, records of who is watching whom would be publicly available.)  By using the public database, a spy would reveal his or her own identity and interest to the subject of his interest.

The genii is out of the bottle.  Now that it exists, face recognition software will be utilized.  If the authorities do not install the video equipment on every city street, it will be done privately.

If civil libertarians have their way, governments will be prohibited from using face recognition software.  Then only the wealthy would be able to access the private networks on which this information is stored.

The police would not have access, and so would not be nearly as efficient at finding criminals or preventing crime.   Criminals of all kinds would prosper.

And because information is power, the wealthy, who could access the database would have an even greater edge.

SPIN does not mind being recognized and watched in public by a public camera.  But being watched is only tolerable if everyone has equal right of access to the resulting database, including a warning of and access to the names of those who watch oneself.

Access should not be restricted to just the police and those whom our legislators nominate as "suitable to be trusted".


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