Is Minority Report Upon Us?

Everyone knows that the all-seeing eye of the government has been expanding rapidly since 2001.  Many of us have received tickets in the mail for offences we “think” we didn’t commit, of course, until we see the video evidence of it online.  Simply put, this surveillance isn’t going to go away.  In fact, it is pervasive in even more places that we realize.  For example, having your picture tagged on Facebook has been putting you into a database of facial recognition software for years.  The end product for the Facebook user is that he or she now gets suggested tags for their uploaded photos based on facial recognition.

A recent article from the Wall Street Journal explains the deployment of facial and iris recognition software in law enforcement as follows:

Police forces across the country are planning to start using new mobile technology later this year that can identify suspects and instantly reveal their criminal history based on a picture of their face or iris, the colored portion of an eye.

The technology here (Mobile Offender Recognition and Information System or MORBIS) is as simple as fitting an attachment to an iPhone or Android device and taking a picture of an individual.  For the iris recognition software to work properly, a picture has to be taken from approximately 5 to 6 inches away.  The facial recognition software has a maximum effective distance of about 5 feet.  This software has already been heavily used in Iraq and Afghanistan by the U.S. military.  According to an NPR report, 1 in 4 Iraqi men of fighting age are in recognition databases.

NeilS — In an age where technology has been consistently outpacing the rate of Constitutional amendment, we are once again faced with a dilemma.  According to the law, it is your right to take pictures of anything and anyone while in a public place.  The question here is whether or not law enforcement officials should be able to photo anyone at any time in order to identify them.  So far, the technology requires a level of cooperation because the photo must be taken while the subject is not moving and at a reasonably close distance.  Without a doubt though, the future will demand that we decide whether we want to be constantly watched.  Soon enough this technology will be so good that it could recognize you from anywhere any time.

There are certainly benefits and costs to society of the deployment of these technologies.  One benefit, for example, is that ATMs could have facial recognition software to identify that you are the account holder that is withdrawing funds.  On the other hand, the ability for law enforcement to pick you out of any crowd may make it more difficult to politically organize, stage demonstrations, or protest.  Furthermore, we know this technology cannot be contained to law enforcement alone, eventually private companies will have this info for good and bad.  The question really is are you ready to live in this world?


What do you think?  Does law enforcement having the ability to scan irises and faces to identify an individual make it a safer world?  With the likes of twitter and Facebook receiving constant updates about our lives, is it irrational to think that we can still sustain some level of anonymity? I would love to hear the discussion on this one rage!

[PollMe form=’MinorityReport’]