Surveillance Cameras

SURVEILLANCE CAMERAS….South Knox Bubba reports today that the Knox County Sheriff’s Department is installing a surveillance camera using face recognition software called FaceIt “to keep an eye out for fugitives.”

There’s good news and bad news here. The good news is that FaceIt doesn’t work very well. The bad news is that it’s getting better all the time.

Maybe David Brin is right, and this kind of thing is inevitable, but I’m sure not willing to give up yet. So I’ll remind everyone again that surveillance cameras (and face recognition software) aren’t ipso facto bad ? they do help catch bad guys, after all ? but they can be very bad indeed depending on how they’re used. The important questions are:

  • Who has access to the pictures?

  • How long are they kept?

  • How are they indexed?

There’s no question that cameras can have a legitimate use in deterring crime and catching crooks, and the civil liberties dangers can be minimized if the data is kept for, say, only 30 days and is available to outsiders only via court order. The real danger comes when cameras keep track of our movements continuously, the data is indexed so that it can be easily retrieved by querying a person’s name, the pictures are kept forever, and pictures from multiple cameras are all stored in a single central database where they are easily accessible to anyone who wants it.

These are all things that can be controlled via legislation, and they should be. In terms of genuine danger to civil liberties, it’s the extension of the Patriot Act that I’m worried about, not so much the cameras themselves.

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