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Photo ID is Obsolete and Unnecessary. Facial Recognition Technology Makes it Dangerous.

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In mid-May, San Francisco, California became the first American city to ban use of facial recognition surveillance technology by its police department and other city agencies. That's a wise and ethical policy, as a July 7 piece at the Washington Post proves.

Citing documents gathered by Georgetown Law researchers, the Post reports that at least two federal agencies, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, have -- for years -- mined state photo ID databases to populate their own facial recognition databases.

To put a finer point on it, those agencies have been conducting warrantless searches, seizing private biometric data on the entire population of the United States, most of whom are neither charged with, nor suspected of committing, a crime.

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They've conducted these fishing expeditions not just without warrants, but absent even the fig leaf of legislation from Congress or state legislatures to lend supposed legitimacy to the programs.

The Post story, intentionally or not, makes it clear that Congress must follow San Francisco's example and ban use of facial recognition technology, as well as repeal its national photo ID ("REAL ID") scheme, and require federal agencies to delete their facial recognition databases. The states should either lead the way or follow suit by doing away with government-issued photo identification altogether.

Photo ID has always been marginally useful at best. Anyone who's ever worked at a bar or liquor store knows that it's unreliable on a visual check -- and that its uses have been stretched far beyond its supposed purposes.

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The most common form of photo ID is the driver's license. States imposed their licensing schemes on a seemingly justifiable pretext: A driver's license proves that the driver whose photograph appears on it has taken and passed a test demonstrating safety and proficiency behind the wheel.

There are ways to do that without a photo. Three that come to mind are a fingerprint, a digitized summary of an iris scan, or a similar summary of a DNA scan.

Yes, those methods are more expensive and impose a slightly higher burden on law enforcement in identifying a driver who's been pulled over or arrested (and on anyone else who wants to confirm an individual's identity). But they're also far more reliable and less easily used in pulling police-state type abuses like those described in the Post story. They can't be used for easy warrantless searches via distant cameras.

In recent decades, and especially since 9/11, the conversation over personal privacy has revolved around how much of that privacy "must" be sacrificed to make law enforcement's job easier.

The answer to that question is "none."

It's not an American's job to make law enforcement's job easier. It's law enforcement's job to respect that American's rights.

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Since law enforcement has continuously proven itself both unwilling and untrustworthy on that count, we need to deprive it of tools that enable that unwillingness and untrustworthiness.

Photo ID is obsolete and unnecessary. Facial recognition technology makes it dangerous. Let's take those tools away from their abusers.

 

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Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


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5 people are discussing this page, with 7 comments  Post Comment


Devil's Advocate

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"It's not an American's job to make law enforcement's job easier. It's law enforcement's job to respect that American's rights."

Exactly! But, I would add that it's law enforcement's job to PROTECT those rights. What's being done is the opposite.

Submitted on Tuesday, Jul 9, 2019 at 2:56:53 PM

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I would also add, it's not just law enforcement that is violating citizen rights in this fashion. Google, Facebook, and the rest have been doing the same for quite some time now. Not only is there really very little difference in what they've done, but they've helped set the scenario and functionality for things like facial recognition.

Oh, what a tangled web we all weave, indeed.

Submitted on Tuesday, Jul 9, 2019 at 4:05:29 PM

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911TRUTH

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In recent decades, and especially since 9/11, the conversation over personal privacy has revolved around how much of that privacy "must" be sacrificed to make law enforcement's job easier.

I believe the biggest reason why the false flag event of 9/11 was made to happen was to justify and create the police state that has been built all around us in plain sight.

The cowardly Americans demanded their rights and privacy be destroyed all for the illusion of 'safety.'

Submitted on Tuesday, Jul 9, 2019 at 4:19:29 PM

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Kevin Parker

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"Three that come to mind are a fingerprint, a digitized summary of an iris scan, or a similar summary of a DNA scan." While I have some sympathy for the viewpoint of this article, this means that every traffic cop needs the equipment to perform an id check, and whenever you got pulled over you'd need to be fingerprinted or scanned. Fingerprinting is at least a possibility, not sure we have the technology yet for the other two.

Submitted on Tuesday, Jul 9, 2019 at 10:44:17 PM

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Thomas Knapp

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"this means that every traffic cop needs the equipment to perform an id check"


That's a feature, not a bug, to the extent that it's true (it's not entirely true).*


Right now it's easy for a cop to demand ID -- and usually easier to comply than make a fuss over -- even if there's no probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed or if so that the person is plausibly a suspect (like this).


It should be at least a little more of a pain in the ass, so that cops only demand it when they have a really good reason and those having it demanded of them don't just roll over if it's not justified.


Portable iris scanners have existed since the early 2000s and don't seem to be terribly expensive (the market is driven by security/authentication applications). Since they would have to connect to a database to verify identity, it would be easy to require the officer to attest that he has probable cause, etc., before the database released the information. And cops who had lots of attestations but few associated tickets or arrest would be prima facie exposed as not operating in the way they're supposed to.


Portable DNA scanners are already in use by law enforcement, but more for analyzing crime scene evidence (there's a 90-minute turnaround time), not to ID everyone they stop.


* A DNA application: The officer pulls over someone going 70 mph in a 65 mph zone. The person presents a driver's license without name, address, etc. -- just a DNA hash. The cop writes a ticket, takes a photo and a finger prick blood sample, both parties go on their merry ways. At the end of his shift, the ticket, photo, and sample get processed and the ticket gets mailed to the motorist. If it turns out the ID didn't actually belong to the motorist, they have the DNA and a photo to compare against other databases to try to identify the culprit (instead of just the cop's memory of what the motorist looked like).

Submitted on Tuesday, Jul 9, 2019 at 11:27:56 PM

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So would it be no problem if the government were to have at ready a database describing, for everyone in the country, a fingerprint, a digitized summary of an iris scan, or a similar summary of a DNA scan?

Submitted on Wednesday, Jul 10, 2019 at 1:40:30 PM

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That would create its own set of problems.


Of course, there's no reason it needs to be "everybody." I'm just fine with eliminating or drastically reducing the requirement/issuance incidence of driver's licenses, state-issued ID cards, passports, etc. (and many people function without government-issued ID at all -- I did so for more than a decade between 2004 and 2016).


But if we're going to put up with those things, I'd rather make it harder than easier for retail/street level government functionaries to access/utilize them routinely and/or on a whim.

Submitted on Wednesday, Jul 10, 2019 at 2:20:02 PM

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