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Wake-up call

Sneer, you're on surveillance camera!


Got a moment? Look up to the sky and beyond. Imagine the trillions of invisible signals speeding undeterrable from space, knowing exactly which hand-held device on silent mode in someone's pocket anywhere in the world to report to and leave a notification with.

We have no privacy even when we are alone. We are always subjects and targets for intrusion.

Televangelists talk of divine presence. But "artificial intelligence" in the form of facial recognition is becoming just as pervasive and omniscient. We cannot hide no matter where we are: workplaces, shopping outlets, banks, streets, public places, our homes and schools.

Madison Square Garden's CEO James Dolan uses AI technology to identify, track and bounce his adversaries from his properties. An attorney was barred from attending a Rockettes performance at Radio City Music Hall with her daughter's Girl Scout troop reportedly because her role in a lawsuit didn't sit well with those in charge.

And Fairway Market on the Upper West Side is said to preemptively foil shoplifters by embargoing them (and other sundry strangers about whom they feel uncomfortable) before they can enter the threshold of aisle 1.

Corporations and the government are weaponizing technology to oversee our actions, penetrate our thoughts, anticipate and control our behavior. They own our freedom and identity.

It's an insult to our autonomy and dignity as free people.

Our arguably mythical bedrock democratic principles are dissipating and being thrust to the winds. Our righteously conceived but wayward nation will not be forgivable. It will be impossible to return to roots that have been ripped from the earth and composted.

The sinister use of data analysis was originally the brainchild of our clandestine intelligence agencies. Thermal images, 3D sensors and skin-texture analysis have rapidly expanded and massively penetrated into our lives. 

We are under surveillance by the kaleidoscopic eyes of the state and private enterprise.

According to Clarifai.com, facial recognition can be a tool for mental health-diagnosis and crime-anticipation. It can "leverage other analytical solutions, like natural language processing, and behavioral analysis" and it can "guess a person's demographic traits.”

"Face inference" is based on facial features and can interpret emotions. "Face geometry" looks for a number of data points, including the distance between the eyes, between the nose and mouth, cheekbone shape, as well as the overall length of the face between the forehead and chin. 

This is transformed into a 'faceprint," according to an overseas IT source.

We are entering an era of regressive modernity. We are returning to the discredited belief that the appearance of our eyebrows could be markers of  intellectual, social and racial worth. Will people be judged accordingly? Will the government establish a web of laws and policies with a framework for ominous enforcement?

Will the private sector be invited to buy into it, as they have done with military operations?

The Electronic Frontier Foundation notes that "facial recognition" is not limited to verification. It includes "photo clustering, race analysis, real time tracking and more.” The EFF reports that the Department of Homeland Security's "FAST" project is deployed to detect "mal-intent" and "deception" and that "face analysis” can also be incorporated into "aggression detectors.”

They call it "predictive policing.” It can find any one of us in a crowd of millions. People have gone to jail because of its "gotcha" glitches.

The government's claim to the gift of prophecy is unnerving, spurious, revolutionary and  maddening. Yet the collection of our biometric information is being touted as a godsend to the advancement of civilization.

Certainly it is an asset to tyranny.

Artificial intelligence is the Luciferian ghost of social media whose trollers are its darlings. And diabolical genius has made even the most innocent child an accidental troller.

Facial recognition technology can ape human arbitrariness. Algorithms contrived to exclude unwanted patrons and repel union organizers is a boss's dream. Clarifai.com  notes they can assess customers before they even enter the store, thereby allowing management to single out "high-value" customers for VIP "gold star treatment" to let them "skip the line.”

The Algorithmic Accountability Act, introduced a few months ago by U.S. Representative Yvette Clarke (D-NY) and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) spells out comprehensive, mandatory accountability measures for companies that use artificial intelligence, but can we trust the guarantees of government, which itself is a serial violator of our privacy rights?

The Brookings Institution cites an October 2021 White House announcement of "plans to develop an Artificial Intelligence Bill of Rights to assert basic principles of civil liberties in technology"

The American Civil Liberties Union reports that the Internal Revenue Service requires taxpayers who want to set up their own IRS account to go through a privately-owned "gatekeeper.” The same company is used by the Social Security Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs and numerous other federal agencies.

Who vets them and who vets the vettors?

Under the proposed Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act, the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement could not use face recognition on U.S. residents and travelers. But is this blanket prohibition wise, regardless of jurisdiction?

We are not the government's children or significant others. Our relationship to our rulers must be predicated upon estrangement in order for either to thrive.

The New York Civil Liberties Union describes a scenario that should be a wake-up call: "You could end up under police suspicion just for typing words into Google. And when you step outside, an army of cameras could be watching your every move, while a police drone, hundreds of feet away, zooms in for a closer look at your child's school, a camera outfitted with facial recognition technology is constantly scanning students' faces as they walk through the hall.”

Allegedly the government is already in some areas setting home thermostats remotely. That's like IT officers  taking over our computer mouse from afar and directing its behavior. It would not be the most egregious violation by the government of the sanctity of our dwellings and contemplation.

In an article published last June, the NYCLU claimed New York’s State Education Department ignored a ban by “approving grant applications for schools to purchase biometric surveillance technologies, including facial recognition.”

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) was enacted by Congress in 1986 to protect us from the government's invasion of the privacy  of our electronic communications and the Federal Trade Commission targeted private entities with the same intent, but there's not much to show for it. 

According to Lobbying Disclosure Act filings, cited by nonpartisan, nonprofit OpenSecrets.org, "at least 32 companies and organizations lobbied Congress, federal departments and the White House on facial recognition and biometric technology in 2021.”

Facial recognition warriors contend that opponents of its blessings are simply latter-day Luddites who want to impede progress. The AI disciples insist that their motivations are benign and that there is nothing to fear because its masters are devoted to fairness. Their fatuous caveat: skeptics should have more faith in decency and the self-regulating restraints of human nature.

I used to fall for that. However,  a recent news blurb, unrelated to AI, confirmed the sharp reversal of my idealism.

Lawyers for Boeing vigorously and indignantly argued in a current lawsuit brought by relatives of a plane crash that killed all passengers a few years ago, that their client should not be held liable for the "pain and suffering" of the victims, because despite the minutes of horror preceding the plane's plummet, the doomed didn't have enough time to appreciate their dire fate prior to their instantaneous deaths when the plane thudded into the ground. Therefore, what they didn't know couldn't hurt them.

That mindset is adored by the AI fixers. 

The facial recognition industry is raking in billions of dollars annually. It's growing by leaps and bounds. So is the hit on our freedom.

Data aggregation companies are the Navy Seals of a dystopia that is futuristic yet imminent. A few names to remember: Amazon Rekognition, Kairos, Clearview AI, ALClear, Verkada, Xailient (whose quaint slogan is "See What Matters").

Once a new weapon is developed, whether in military warfare or technology in service for everyday civilian use, it will never be retracted or relinquished. It will be tested and improved until it is tried out and reaches the perfect standard of total destructiveness.

Is it too late? About face!


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