If you are a regular on Facebook, you may have noticed a flurry of selfies side-by-side with museum portraits. Thanks to the new and improved “Google Arts & Culture app,” you too can find your “museum doppelgänger.” For those of you unfamiliar with the German word, it means you can find your spirit double lurking in a museum collection. Simply snap an image and Google artificial intelligence does the rest.
It is obvious to see the appeal because each of us has an “inner narcissist” that likes to look in a mirror and try on some new clothes, but that makes it dangerous too. 1984 has come and gone. The science-fiction big-brother police state predicted by George Orwell can use the tempting social-media trend as bait, to log your individual facial characteristics for when they want to use them against you later.
Right here in the U.S., “about half of the adult Americans are now part of a virtual, perpetual lineup,” Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy & Technology reported in 2016. Their findings were based on information obtained in House oversight committee hearings. The government has long been collecting images “that can be cross-referenced by the FBI when looking for a suspect in a criminal investigation.”
With advances in facial recognition technology, the gear has become accurate enough to use as biometric security. Apple’s iPhone X “lets you use your ‘faceprint’ to unlock your phone.” Facebook will now alert you if someone posts a pic that includes you. Whether they tagged you or not.
China is the epitome of government control of the citizenry. The People’s Republic also leads the world in applied facial recognition. Currently, 170 million closed-circuit cameras keep an unblinking eye on every move. By 2020, there will be 400 million in use. A significant number of the devices are equipped with artificial intelligence capability that analyzes what it sees in real time. Big brother isn’t just watching you, he is collecting evidence and using it against you.
Chinese cities have red-light radar cameras for jaywalking pedestrians. If you try to cross a road against the light, your image is immediately plastered on a road-side jumbotron so the whole neighborhood will know you are about to get a ticket in the mail.
A little notation gets made in your permanent file and it gives your “social credit score” a little “ding.” That is another Chinese innovation. “Basically an Uber rating for every citizen,” the report collects “a whole suite of information whether you pay your bills on time, who your friends are, and if you jaywalk frequently.”
Similar to your Credit FICO score, the system calculates “a number that reflects your trustworthiness.” Someone with a low SICO score isn’t going to be working a great job or having much luck finding a date.
The Chinese are obviously at the extreme end of surveillance state governments but Western nations aren’t far behind. The UK’s Metropolitan police have a database containing more than 20 million images which they controversially use to “identify potential troublemakers in public places such as the Notting Hill carnival.”
Right here in the U.S. of A., “the U.S. National Security Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation have been harvesting data such as audio, video, photographs, emails, and documents from the internal servers of nine major technology companies.” We learned about the PRISM program in 2013 when a 41 slide NSA presentation leaked to the press.
“The program, code-named PRISM, is considered highly classified and has never been made public before. The list of companies involved are the who’s who of Silicon Valley: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, and Apple. Dropbox, though not yet an official part of the program, is said to be joining it soon. These companies have all willingly participated in the program.”
Active since 2007, the PRISM program was so important it was considered “the biggest contributor to the daily briefings given to the president.” Nearly one in seven NSA intelligence reports used data from the program.
Until the story broke, “the only members of Congress that knew about PRISM’s existence were bound by oath not to speak of it publicly.” Google denied everything. “From time to time, people allege that we have created a government ‘backdoor’ into our systems, but Google does not have a ‘backdoor’ for the government to access private user data.” They use the front door instead.
You may want to think twice before you decide to find out which great master painted your portrait hundreds of years before you were born.