Privacy activists say we should be alarmed by the rise of automated facial recognition surveillance. But transhumanist Zoltan Istvan says it’s time to embrace the end of privacy as we know it.
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Every day, your movement is tracked. Your purchases are logged, your searches saved. And increasingly, your face is scanned.
Facial recognition technology is becoming more widespread daily, and governments are finding new applications in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Privacy International reports that 24 countries have already implemented location tracking to help ensure compliance with quarantines.
So can we resist the surveillance society? Should we?
Kate Rose says yes.
“I think you have a right to consent to how your information is used, especially if it’s meant to be at some point used against you or used extrajudicially,” says Rose, the cybersecurity analyst and fashion designer who founded Adversarial Fashion, a line of surveillance-resistant clothing. Its wares include masks meant to block facial recognition cameras, and shirts patterned with fake license plates meant to feed bad data into automated license plate readers.
Rose’s concern about extrajudicial use of personal data is more plausible than ever in the age of coronavirus lockdowns.
San Francisco and Oakland have outright banned the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement. Some technologists think such bans are overreactions.
“Suspending A.I. [artifical intelligence] facial recognition like San Francisco and Oakland…is idiocy to be honest. And lives will be lost,” says Zoltan Istvan, a tech writer and self-described transhumanist who is currently seeking the Libertarian Party’s vice-presidential nomination. Istvan believes that humans should celebrate and embrace the disruptive capabilities of technology to modify the human body and experience. He even implanted an RFID chip in his hand that allows him to unlock his front door.
Facial recognition technology “is going to be very useful to the human race,” says Istvan, “but we just kinda got to get over it being creepy.”
Istvan envisions authorities using facial recognition and other artificial intelligence–driven surveillance tools to prevent terrorist attacks by recognizing abnormal behaviors or suspicious individuals in crowds. Or to aid the government in fighting human trafficking.
Produced by Zach Weissmueller and Justin Monticello. Opening graphics by Lex Villena. Camera by James Lee Marsh, John Osterhoudt, Weissmueller, and Monticello. Hong Kong camerawork by Edwin Lee.
Music credits: Songs from the album Paradigm Lost by Kai Engel licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike 2.0 license.
Photo credits: “Thermal surveillance,” by Dario Sabljak/agefotostock/Newscom; “Surveillance camera,” Caro/Sorge/Newscom; “Chula Vista facial recognition tablet,” Howard Lipin/TNS/Newscom