Rosen details how police can use facial recognition software combined with abundant cameras to track and catalog our activities. As Rosen explains, the snooping is not limited to attempting to catch suspected criminals. Rather, police may use the technology to follow the daily activities of any person whose photo is contained in vast photo databases, such as anyone with a driver license.
In Yevgeny Zamyatin's dystopian novel We, the people of One State live in transparent apartments with curtains required to be open nearly all the time so police and informants may view the residents' every action. Listening to George Washington University Law School Professor Jeffrey Rosen's interview last week on The Take Away, it becomes disturbingly clear that Americans are one step away from this level of government snooping on our activities.
The US government is working with states to expand quickly the use of facial recognition surveillance. Jennifer Lynch of the Electronic Frontier Foundation warned last year:
The database will quickly grow much larger. Lynch explains that agreements between the FBI and states in the pilot program allow the states to add just about anyone's photo to the database, including data dumps of driver license photos.
Recently-released documents show that the FBI has been working since late 2011 with four states—Michigan, Hawaii, Maryland, and possibly Oregon—to ramp up the Next Generation Identification (NGI) Facial Recognition Program. When the program is fully deployed in 2014, the FBI expects its facial recognition database will contain at least 12 million “searchable frontal photos.”
In addition to expanding the photo database, the US government is working on significantly improving the cameras and facial recognition software police use. For example, Gene Healy of the Cato Institute describes some efforts of the US Department of Homeland Security. First, DHS "has awarded a $5.2 million federal contract to the defense firm Electronic Warfare Associates to develop facial recognition technology allowing video cameras to pick 'watch-listed' suspects out of crowds at distances of up to 100 meters." Second, DHS is considering using, inside the US, Gorgon Stare "a drone-mounted camera array under development by the Air Force that can watch whole cities at a time." As we have seen again and again, military equipment and tactics developed in US wars abroad are later used domestically.
How can we evade the snooping? Maybe we can wear masks to regain some of our lost privacy from prying government eyes. But, the government will likely respond by outlawing wearing masks. In fact, last year the Canadian government made wearing a mask or otherwise concealing your identity at a "riot or unlawful assembly" a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
At least we can stay in our homes with the curtains closed—until the US government takes the next step toward One State.