Biometric facial scanning
by jeremy, joseph, david & chad
Dec 3, 2001
Los Angeles is barely a handshake away from installing biometric facial scanners, similar to those used at last year's Super Bowl, in the Los Angeles airport. Other cities are taking the same steps. This is causing some discussion across the country, though (IMHO) not as much as it should. A few of us CSPers weigh in with our thoughts:
For the moment, I'm not too concerned. As long as this kind of technology
is only employed in public arenas and is utilized solely to maintain safety
and security, I'm not worried. The worst that would likely happen is some
security guard might see me pick my nose, scratch my crotch, or stare down
the shirt of some hottie. However, if the government starts moving further
down the road of blanket phone taps and broader domestic spying powers (all
in the name of rooting out terrorism, of course), we may as well move to
Some civil libertarians see any move by the government to better monitor the
public as a slippery slope into an abyss of fascism. I generally don't buy
into "slippery slope" arguments. I usually believe that there's always some
middle ground on any issue. But while protests from civil libertarians are
going largely unheeded these days (after all, when people are frightened,
the instinct to survive supercedes the desire for freedom), I think we
should all bear in mind Patrick Henry's famous rallying cry, "Give me
liberty or give me death!" This should be our mantra (albeit a tad extreme)
through this crisis. We must be vigilant against abuses of our civil
rights. Otherwise, measures enacted to protect us from terror will
accomplish exactly what our enemies want.
What can anyone say about it? It will happen; this use of biometrics
will become an increasing part of our lives, and I imagine soon such
technology will be employed at grocery stores, at traffic lights, movie
theatres . . . I canít imagine that within 20 years we wonít have an
infrastructure in place to track pretty much every person any place they
care to go. In the wake of September 11, at least for the foreseeable
future, who is going to stand up to these changes? Any outcry of protest is
going to be met with the inevitable ďIf you donít have anything to hide,
thereís no reason for you to be concerned about this.Ē And thatís going to
shut a lot of people up. The liberal press has been largely supportive of
any and all measures which might (the operative word) decrease the
likelihood of a terrorist attack. And so we will continue to watch as
technology encroaches upon our freedom in the name of preserving it. Thus,
in the wake of September 11, the pendulum swings hard in the direction of
more surveillance, more paranoia, more technology seeking to protect us from
a nebulous evil Other. The question is whether the pendulum will ever swing
It's goofy, I know, and hardly to the point, but the first thing I think when I hear that LAX is a whisper away from installing biometric facial scanners at airport checkpoints is "that's damn cool." And, it is. I mean, we are talking here about machines that can look at your face, scan it, and check that scan against a huge database of facial scans, all in a matter of moments. Just a few years ago, this would have been the stuff of James Bond movies -- now it'll be as common and innocuous as airport baggage scanners. So, my geek side takes over, and again I think, "that's damn cool." And, I would be right, if I felt we could trust the scanners to be used in a purely responsible manner. If placed properly, and used by experienced, well-trained individuals without any agenda but the protection of the public, the inconvenience to us would be minimal, and the benefits large. The idea of facial scanning does not make me concerned for myself - I've done nothing wrong, and so most likely have nothing to fear.
But I do worry about how it will affect others, and how the government will leverage the data it gathers on us against our civil liberties. Unfortunately, with the government's recent attempts at the suppression of civil liberties (insistence upon military tribunals, even for citizens, eavesdropping on attorney/client conversations, etc.), I am more worried about the implications of such scanning than I might have been previously. Is data being collected? How long will that data be stored? Who will have access to it? What will be done with it? I tend to be largely trusting of our government (some would say, "naive"), but, after hearing Bush and Ashcroft over the last few weeks, even I am worried. It is hard to stand opposed to any new security measures right now, but we must keep an extremely critical eye toward our leadership, especially in times like these. Facial scanners are just tools, and they are no more insidious than the agendas of the people operating them. It is those agendas against which we should be on our guard.
Anytime I hear a phrase such as "biometric facial recognizers," I can't help
but think of some stark futuristic world, something akin to GATTICA,
"Harrison Bergeron," or 1984. But, then again, a social security number
isn't much more than a human barcode. We are apt to grow accustomed to
these things, if implemented in small enough measures. I'm just afraid of
what it could develop into. A wall is built brick by brick.
Granted, if the recognizers had been implemented in New York before
September 11, the tragedy may not have taken place. But could you have even
imagined such a thing before that date?
In order to allow certain comforts, we must infringe on certain liberties.
People kid themselves by thinking we live in a free democracy, but that
notion is ludicrous. You can never have a truly free democracy. Our
government is as close as it can get, but sheer size alone prevents it from
ever being anything more than a restrictive republic. We don't even have
much say in what it decides. We, individually, only have a small say in
electing the officials that do, and as we found in the last Presidential
election, even that process can be called into question. If the government
doesn't do anything, people claim stoicism and ineffectiveness. If it
exercises too much control in order to stop the bleeding, people claim
socialism or fascism.
The need for national security is now at heights last seen during the Cold
War. The CIA is back in full force and up to its old tricks. Personally, I
don't like the idea of full-blown espionage, because that inherently implies
spying on your own; but I do like the idea of boarding a plane again without
the feeling that it may fly into the White House.