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Surveillance Technologies May Soon Make Anonymity Impossible

It is no secret that, in civilised society, "Big Brother" is very likely to be watching us whenever we venture into public places and, thanks to facial recognition software utilised by retail outlets, "Big Brother" is not only watching, but also knows our names and many other personal details.

Facial recognition software is already incorporated into many security systems in order to track shop-lifters, but a new use has now been found for its revelations: tracking big spenders.

Companies now plan to extend the services offered by recognition software companies such as California-based FaceFirst, who already notify retailers by text or email when known shop-lifters enter their premises, in order to track down and target those customers who are most likely to part with big bucks in their store.

The technology will soon enable businesses to identify "big spenders" and provide staff with pertinent details, including their name, clothing size, favorite brands and purchase history, so that they can personalise their approach to the customer.

"Just load existing photos of your known shoplifters, members of organized retail crime syndicates, persons of interest and your best customers into FaceFirst," the company website explains. "Instantly, when a person in your FaceFirst database steps into one of your stores, you are sent an email, text or SMS alert that includes their picture and all biographical information of the known individual so you can take immediate and appropriate action."

The potential for the new technology has also been recognised by other establishments who like to take extra special care of their best customers, including hotels. The development of the concept is being discussed in a series of meetings between experts and consumers representatives in Washington . The issue of customer privacy is an important topic on the agenda, and Joseph Rosenkrantz, the chief executive of FaceFirst, envisages that stores using the software to seek permission from their customers first.

“That would require opt-in consent,” he said.

The National Telecommunications & Information Administration intends to develop a 'voluntary, enforceable code of conduct that specifies how the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights applies to facial recognition technology in the commercial context' at the meetings.

'Commercial facial recognition technology has the potential to provide important benefits and to support a new wave of technological innovation,' John Verdi, the agency’s director of privacy initiatives told the New York Times, 'but it also poses consumer privacy challenges.'

There are serious concerns over the use of such methods: the covert nature of the surveillance means that the target has no knowledge or control over its use, and facial recognition software measures unique biological patterns in each individual, similar to DNA sequencing, so this type of biometric data is considered to be extremely personal and sensitive. In the wake of the revelations by Edward Snowden, the whistle-blower who exposed sensitive documents revealing that the government had collated huge amounts of personal data from phone records and mobile phones, there are fears that the technology could be misused.

“This is you as an individual being monitored over time and your movements and habits being recorded,” says Christopher Calabrese, legislative counsel for privacy issues at the American Civil Liberties Union. “That is a very scary technological reality.”

Mr. Rosenkrantz argues that its current shoplifter-recognition service is no less intrusive than typical in-store video security surveillance systems, which capture images of every customer and stores them for 30 days, destroying faceprints of all consumers except shoplifters.

“We purposely do not store information on people not being looked for,” he says.

Yet Joseph Atick, a pioneer in the area of facial recognition, believes that in modern society where it can be linked with the proliferation of other technologies such as cellphones, facial recognition is potentially a far more powerful tool. He suggest that it could ultimately result in continuous and total exposure, and ensuring that it would be virtually impossible for anyone to remain anonymous when venturing out in public.

“I don’t think there has ever been a capability that converged in this way to give people power over you,” Mr. Atick says.

Is the use of this type of technology ethical, or a violation of our personal privacy? More worryingly, where will it end? Will it soon be impossible to venture out of doors undetected? Will footage of our movements be made available to the highest bidder, making it easy for stalkers or cuckolded spouses to track the movements of their quarry?

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We live in a society where by and large, personal boundaries no longer matter, in any real sense. In a country where true political leadership is no longer practiced nor expected to sincerely serve or protect its people, the insertion of a technology that is meant to spy on who we are, what we do, how we behave, collecting as much personal information as possible so someone or some group can reap the benefits of what we are about, is clearly the next step into a devious, devisive, paranoid and intrusive way of life where fear, control and blatant disregard for any semblance of true privacy is allowable as a freedom of personal empowerment and choice.

We all need to choose our methods and alliances that we know will support us in reclaiming our rights to privacy. I find it hard to describe how much I miss knowing and living around men of great integrity, such as the ones in my own family who helped to shape the values I hold dear in my life. They are all gone now. It is my dream that men especially will come to their better senses, step forward, speak out strongly and support our communities and especially defend the needs of our women, children and youth in our country.

WHAT A SICK SOCIETY WE LIVE IN! It's all about Money, Greed and Profit! And as Phyllis says, personal space, the Right to Privacy and Representative Government have gone out the window.
We SO need a radical change from this - NOW.

Philip K. Dick was way ahead of his time on this idea, as was George Orwell. Their cautionary tales have largely been ignored as people stumble blindly into the modern world of non-connected connectedness via their electronic devices and the internet. Even without drones watching our every move, people continue to freely give away their personal information out to total strangers, post 'selfies' on FaceBook, and their most recent bowel movement via Twitter. Our society is definitely ill, narcissism is encouraged, and for the price of a simple survey, corporations will give you discounts and 'special' deals on their merchandise. (They now have everything that they need to know in order to market to you, directly or indirectly)

I tend to pay with checks or cash, and stores are always trying to sign me up for their debit cards for more discounts. One clerk said that I could get special discounts and offers if I used their debit card. I pointed to the receipt that she just handed to me, and it included coupons attached for everything from dog food to shampoo---all of them for brands that I use. I showed it to her and just stated, "You are already doing that, even though I pay with checks...You know my spending habits, and what brands I use, and all without having one of your debit cards. Her jaw hit the floor, and she said, "You're right!". I don't think it had ever occurred to her that her own employer, a well-known chain of retail stores, was already tracking my spending, even though I didn't have their debit card, and rarely charge purchases. It's also not unusual for cashiers to ask for your driver's license and scan it as well. Drones are probably just over-kill, and you can already be tracked if you carry around a cell-phone, only now you can be seen as well, including that zit on your forehead!

I knew we were all in trouble several years ago the first time I saw my house on Google maps complete with a 360 degree view of the entire street, and a bird's eye view of my backyard as well.(Wait, shouldn't someone ask my permission before invading the privacy of my backyard?)

Radical change now? Are you ready to give up your cell phone, the internet and computers, your credit cards, and store discounts? Can you say "no" to any and all surveys? How about your new car and all the fancy new gadgets on your dash? How about how you vote, now done paperless, and in some states they also require a driver's license or other form of acceptable ID?

The genie is out of the bottle, and he won't be getting back in there in the near future, if ever.

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