We are seeing public calls for banning all face Recognition use by police. Cambridge MA joins the cities considering a ban. I understand why…take a look at the gif above of protestors in Hong Kong using lasers to block face detection. The original Blade Runner was set in 2019, I think this fully horrifyingly cyberpunk moment puts us there. Video on twitter here.
However, those asking for bans are laboring under the illusion that we can go back to a world of anonymity, of obscurity. But there is no obscurity of identity as long as even one person in the long line of government agencies decides to use face detection on a video frame. Pandora has left the big box store and is having her feet scraped at a resort in Cancun.
You think a ban will stop the NSA? The FBI? The agencies without initials? And what are you doing with such a ban? You are removing from public access the ability to use this tech to identify bad actors in the policing space.
You see, they have access to cameras and ML, but we all have cameras in our pockets and ML as a service. We can film them, and identify them, and track them also. The blade swings both ways here.
The problem here isn’t the tech, it’s that people are being horrible to each other. The problem with China isn’t that it’s using this tech to oppress protests, it’s that it is trying to do terrible things like displace populations and crush Hong Kong. They would do it without the tech, and if we want to stop the real abuses protecting Cambridge as a safe identity space isn’t going to go very far.
It may seem like we are “doing something” with these bans, but it’s meaningless busy work when compared with the real issues of Inequality, identity, institutional racism, etc.
To be clear, I am not making the argument of “well if you don’t want to get in trouble just don’t do anything wrong.” I am instead saying that if that doing wrong is actually the right thing, and goes against the grain of society, then exposing your identity is crucial in the change.
If you want to protect your identity from cameras in public, your best bet is to go for some counter surveillance tech. I am all for it, especially if it is really cyberpunk.
Check out this shirt for instance.
What I like the most about this approach it is a true middle finger to the guy in the three letter agency who thinks he can control the world with technology. And it’s my protected “right” to wear it. Try to ban it, punk.
And the title of this post is of course in reference to the recent loss of Rutger Hauer. Thanks Rutger, you were a candle burning at both ends, twice as bright.