The answer comes before the question

January 13th, 2009

If you use Apple, you will know that the new version of iLife will include updates to iPhoto that are simply astonishing.

iPhoto 09 will scan your photo library for faces, and allow you to name the people in your photos. It will then put the right name to each face in every photograph in your library automagically.

The first thing that came to my mind was the phrase, “Police state dividend!”.

What is even more fascinating is that iPhoto 09 allows you to upload your named faces to Facebook. I’m sure there are many people who know what this means; why should the state spend billions rolling out centralized databases of everyone’s faces when they can get back door access to Facebook, which not only will have everyone’s name and face, but also all of their social connections and their named faces also!

In any case, David Rowan writes in the times about how face recognition is being touted as the next big thing:


Rob Milliron, a construction worker, had a close escape back in June 2001, when, while eating lunch in Tampa, Florida, he was photographed without his knowledge by a hidden government facial-recognition surveillance camera scouring for felons and sex-offenders. Police passed images to the press and, although Mr Milliron wasn’t a match to a bad guy, his picture was printed in a magazine alongside the words: “You can’t hide those lying eyes in Tampa.” A woman in Tulsa called police to identify him falsely as her ex-husband wanted on felony child-neglect charges. When police surrounded Mr Milliron days later at his construction site, he had to point out that, yes, that was him in the photograph, but no, he had never married, never had children, and never been to Oklahoma. As he told the local newspaper: “They made me feel like a criminal.”

Tampa scrapped its facial-recognition system two years later, citing its ineffectiveness, but not before Milliron had become something of a poster-boy for the technology’s unreliability and its likelihood to trap the innocent amid its many “false positives”. Since then, the War on Terror has amplified official interest in and financing for face-recognition trials as a means of identifying the supposedly high-risk – but, in projects from Newham in East London to Logan Airport in Boston, results have been flawed to say the least. In one high-profile trial, at Palm Beach International Airport, a facial-recognition system at a security checkpoint matched faces to those in its database just 47 per cent of the time. Ordinary passengers and other airport staff not meant to be recognised, meanwhile, triggered 1,081 false alarms in a month, risking interrogation or detention.

Yet just because, for the moment, such surveillance systems are flawed – their recognition befuddled by human ageing, outdoor light, poor image resolution, even facial hair – the extraordinary pace of development means that far more accurate screening systems are imminent. Researchers are developing sharply accurate scanners that monitor faces in 3D and software that analyses skin texture to turn tiny wrinkles, blemishes and spots into a numerical formula.

The strongest face-recognition algorithms are now considered more accurate than most humans – and already the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers have held discussions about the possibility of linking such systems with automatic car-numberplate recognition and public-transport databases. Join everything together via the internet, and voilà – the nation’s population, down to the individual Times reader, can be conveniently and automatically monitored in real time.

Just listen to senior law-enforcement executives to understand their brave new intentions. Three months ago, Mark Branchflower, Interpol’s database chief, declared facial recognition a desirable means of alerting local forces about the movements of internationally wanted suspects, “a step we could go to quite quickly”. And in evidence to MPs last March, Peter Neyroud, head of the National Policing Improvement Agency, raised the prospect of “automated face recognition” to identify suspects, as well as “behaviourial matching” software that uses CCTV images to predict potential troublemakers.

So let’s understand this: governments and police are planning to implement increasingly accurate surveillance technologies that are unnoticeable, cheap, pervasive, ubiquitous, and searchable in real time. And private businesses, from bars to workplaces, will also operate such systems, whose data trail may well be sold on or leaked to third parties – let’s say, insurance companies that have an interest in knowing about your unhealthy lifestyle, or your ex-spouse who wants evidence that you can afford higher maintenance payments.

Rather than jump up and down with rage – you never know who is watching through the window – you have a duty now, as a citizen, to question this stealthy rush towards permanent individual surveillance. A Government already obsessed with pursuing an unworkable and unnecessary identity-card database must be held to account.

As for me, I’ve been re-watching for inspiration the 1997 film Face/Off, in which John Travolta wears Nicolas Cage’s face as a way of infiltrating Cage’s criminal gang. And if that fails to inspire a means of fighting back, face-transplant surgery is always an option.

Before I dive in:

Mark Branchflower, Interpol’s database chief, declared facial recognition a desirable means of alerting local forces about the movements of internationally wanted suspects

What if every time they came to find someone, the people who were despatched were simply despatched themselves:

“And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand? After all, you knew ahead of time that those bluecaps were out at night for no good purpose. And you could be sure ahead of time that you’d be cracking the skull of a cutthroat. Or what about the Black Maria sitting out there on the street with one lonely chauffeur — what if it had been driven off or its tires spiked. The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin’s thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt!”
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

No matter what face recognition software is out there, if the above is the counter rule, the machine will grind to a halt. Today, it will not be half a dozen people with axes, but a flash mob of 500 who will not only despatch the thugs, but who will destroy whatever is put in front of them, like a swarm of hungry nanites. It will look something like this only violent.

The answer to all of this is very simple. There are things that the state simply should not do. It is not the function of the state to issue ID Cards, run central databases that store everyone’s communications, etc etc. It does not matter what technology scientists invent; the mere existence of something does not mean that the state should use it. Quite the opposite.

Small government, with its functions clearly defined is the answer to all of our problems. The government has no business regulating money. The government has no business regulating $whatever_they_do_now. Their job is to clean the shit off the streets with brooms and to arbitrate in disputes between people, should they choose the state as the arbitrator. As soon as they start doing other things, the trouble is set off. We see the result of it every day.

The CCTV cameras in the UK are now like a sleeping giant. Once they become intelligent they will suddenly awake and KNOW WHO YOU ARE.

Just think about that.

Every empire that ever existed on the earth eventually fell to dust; these systems and the people who own them are as fragile as a chicken’s egg stretched a mile wide. In a single night the entire machine could be destroyed by an unaccepting population. Whatever happens, this will not last forever. Something will break; either the mass will reject it or the empire that uses it will collapse under the weight of its own debt, like all the others have.

In the mean time, we live in a time where the tools of oppression are available to you to play with. You can download iLife and use its face recognition to organize your photos. This is unprecedented, and very useful. It will instruct millions of people on the true capabilities of the state, causing them to be outraged…but I digress.

This is an age where everyone everywhere can use military grade encryption to keep their communications private. All you need to do is just use it. If Apple rolled it out as a part of their ‘Mail’ application, in a single day many millions of people’s communications would ‘go dark’ to the authorities.

Imagine this scenario. Someone somewhere sets up a Web 2.0 site that features photos of bad police and other officials, or those mysterious agent provocateurs that have been plaguing the useless demonstrations around the world. Imagine that the software behind this site (which could be connected to iPhoto 09) identifies all the bad people and exposes them to the public, nullifying all acts of political infiltration over night. Anyone setting up any sort of anti-state gathering or demonstration or action could, with a gauntlet of workers armed with iphones, vet every demonstrator as they turned up to weed out all the infiltrators, collaborators and provocateurs.

I guarantee you that this will happen, and not only that, but that someone is going to put into a copy of iPhoto 09, a huge archive of photos from demonstrations and political meetings going back decades to pick out the bad guys.

This explosion and convergence of technologies is a double edged sword, and since there are more of us than there are of them, it will be the case that all this technology and the networks that join them together will result in something totally unexpected; the tools may turn around and bite the state in the ass in an unexpected way. The very nature of networks says that this will happen; the population by virtue of its vast networked numbers can overpower any government in a scenario where the network is the power.

We are not powerless like the slaves in the Soviet Union were. We have fantastic tools, all of them free, right in our hands. Those tools, by the act of using them, change the game entirely, and the more the state pushes against the mass, the more dense and impenetrable it becomes.

This is a war that they cannot ever win.

6 Responses to “The answer comes before the question”

  1. Yep, you’re really being watched « ThinkingShift Says:

    […] of photos in your photo library.

  2. BLOGDIAL » Blog Archive » Homeland Security gets secret access to Google Googles Says:

    […] usual, BLOGDIAL suggests that you do not take a pessimistic view of these matters. […]

  3. BLOGDIAL » Blog Archive » Top ten ways you can avoid being tracked Says:

    […] You should not use social networking sites in a way that will compromise your security. Do not post photos of yourself, for example. Photos of you and your friends can be scanned with facial recognition software, putting names to faces for anyone who has the money to pay the social networking provider for access to your network of friends. Scrips erint. […]

  4. BLOGDIAL » Blog Archive » Police Undercover Snatch Squads and Agents Provocateurs Says:

    […] […]

  5. Police Undercover Snatch Squads and Agents Provocateurs | BLOGDIAL Says:

    […] […]

  6. BLOGDIAL » Blog Archive » Using the proliferation of cameras to identify provocateurs Says:

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