With America well on its way to becoming known as “Uncle Snoopy” versus “Uncle Sam”, one has only to look at the current surveillance state of Great Britain to see where most American cities will be in five years. At current count, Great Britain has over 5.9 Million CCTV cameras spread over the entire country, with a majority of those cameras outfitted with Facial Recognition (FR) software. And make no mistake, the Surveillance State is big business. Companies right now all over the world are busy capturing, collating and selling bio-metric data. At last count, the Facial recognition market was estimated at a whopping $1.3 Billion and expected to double by 2022.
Most People are aware of the security applications of FR, but what most folks don’t realize is that FR really “honed” its technical edge in the commercial world. Companies like Facebook, Shutterfly and LinkedIn are currently collecting millions of images of data with Googles FaceNet algorithm currently averaging 99.63% accuracy, while Facebooks DeepFace works 97.25% of the time. Both of these systems consistently outperform the FBI’s own FR software program, which only sports a paltry 85% success rate. It is no surprise then that both Google and Facebook are actively “plying their FR wares” to Uncle Snoopy to improve that percentage.
For those of you out there that still use social media sites like Facebook, you might be interested to know that since 2010 they have been compiling their own “biometric data” collection from over 250 BILLION uploaded images from their users. All of them, by the way, uploaded with the user’s consent (or ignorance of the fact they had the choice to decline). To decline Facebook from using your uploaded images you must navigate through the Privacy Settings to a sub-menu entitled “Who sees tag suggestions when photo’s that look like you are uploaded?” Notice no where in the settings is “Biometrics” or “Facial Recognition” even mentioned once. So much for transparency. You gotta remember folks, Facebook does not make their big money from you, the lowly consumer, they make their money off big-money advertisers, so your data, including your face, is simply seen as a commercial commodity, something that can be bought, sold and traded. Therefore you can see the reason why Facebook and other companies like them have no real incentive to “guard your security”; it just isn’t profitable. OK, so have I convinced you to stop using Social media sites yet?
So we have seen how FR can affect the average, lackadaisical citizen, but what about the criminal? Well, apart from the obvious use in CCTV cameras, technology has advanced by leaps and bounds in the last decade in the area of forensic artistry and DNA analysis. Parabon Nano-Labs at a recent gathering of Law Enforcement Homicide Investigators, revealed their latest break-through: Snapshot DNA Phenotyping. This amazing program can accurately predict both the ancestry and physical appearance of a person from a single DNA sample. Now, all that is needed for the police to make an arrest for a crime (such as murder or rape) is for the criminal to leave behind a scant trace of DNA evidence, and in a very short period of time, regardless if the criminal has prior convictions and is in the system already, a physical likeness can be distributed through an APB and an arrest made. Law Enforcement can also now cut the ID time literally in half in identifying unidentified human remains with DNA phenotyping.
So ultimately where does this leave the concerned citizen who wants to retain some degree of personal privacy in a world where your image is seen as a valuable commodity to be sold and traded to the highest bidder? Some would say privacy is an illusion in the world in which we now live, but I say privacy is still something you have control of, IF you are willing to put the time in to control it. The Government and Companies wanting your money hope you do not put the time in, which is why they make it so darn easy (and free) to use certain apps and software which help them track your buying habits, your location, your hobbies, and of course now, your face.
Controlling your privacy can be approached just like any other self-improvement hobby; depending on how far you want to go with it and what DEGREE you want your privacy at, will determine what products and software you use. No matter how much time you want to put into this however, there is one thing you must do FIRST THING.
STOP USING SOCIAL MEDIA SITES!! and for the love of Pete, STOP downloading photos of yourself and family and posting them online!! I don’t care who is in your “circle” of friends; we have already discussed how Facebook and internet companies as a whole see your images. Sound too extreme? My point exactly. Some people will see it that way, others won’t.
For some CO’s, simply dumping Skype and Facebook along with using a free VPN service like Zen-Mate to mask your IP address and the free TOR browser will suffice. Others will want to go a step further and use Adam Harvey’s line of “Counter-Surveillance Clothing” and other “Privacy” tools such as DNA Spoofing and the Rhizome Commission, which is basically a way to fool a computer algorithm into “seeing” something different from what is presented. I have discussed Harvey’s line of clothing here before with my Drone Series, but since that time, Harvey has come up with some other interesting tools for the privacy conscious CO.
The First is CV Dazzle and Camo-Flash, both very simple ways to confuse FR software within CCTV cameras and “unauthorized” cameras. The third tool is a DNA spoofing technology that creates a “DNA Ambiguity” for the user. This goes right along with the widely held premise that for every “new” technology (like the Snapshot DNA Phenotyping) there will be an equally imaginative “counter” to it. Lastly, is a very intriguing program that seeks to confuse computer algorithms in facial recognition and image recognition software. The program, called “Rhizome Commission” leans heavily on ambiguity and visual obscurity to create a type of digital camouflage to achieve the desired effect.
Until next time…
Stay Alert, Stay Armed and Stay Dangerous!