Vancouver riots and the slippery slope of sharing the ICBC Database

Posted: August 4, 2011 in computers, software, technology
Tags: , , , , , , ,

The whole deal with the ICBC (Insurance Corporation of British Columbia) allowing the Vancouver police force usage of their database isn’t really true, what they are really offering is for the ICBC to look through their own database and let the police know if they find any matches with any of the photos from the riots to help them out.  If matches are found then court orders would need to be filed, etc before any info is handed over.  At least that’s the official statement.

The ICBC’s facial recognition technology uses computers to take biometric measurements, such as the distance between a person’s eyes, nose, cheekbones and jaw, to create a digital profile that can be used to identify a person from another photograph or video image.  Typically this information is used in identity fraud causes.  The difference here is that now the BC privacy commissioner has allowed them to use this information to help out the police, which is where the issue gets a bit sticky, and is under investigation to ensure no one’s privacy rights are being affected.  Under the freedom of information act, and Protection of Privacy act, no government agency is to use any information collected for anything other than it’s intended purpose.  This is the issue with respect to using driver’s license photos and other government issued photo ID to create a profile and look for similar faces in the photos and videos collected from the Vancouver riots.

The use of facial recognition software could be a slippery slope with this inasmuch that some people can misuse this information.  Privacy concerns are always something we have to be careful of, and precedents, once set, are difficult to unset.

We are getting awful close to a big-brother type scenario here, if not worse.  I say worse because in George Orwell’s vision in Nineteen Eighty-Four, the “telescreens” were not able to recognize us and track us based on facial recognition, probably because this was not even thought of when the book was written in 1948, people were simply watched constantly.  Now, instead of watching constantly, captured images could be scanned later to identify people after the fact.  Allowing this kind of tracking is basically lojacking us wherever cameras are around.  I know i’m bordering on tin-foil hat or conspiracy-theory-nut territory here, but is it really that much of a stretch?

Its not much different than going thru the known offenders database that the police already have, except this is a database of presumably innocent people who had their information stored in a database for licensing use only.

How different is this from the uproar over Facebook using facial recognition on any photos uploaded? At least with FB no one was being accused of a crime, at least not directly.  Along those same lines, currently banks and casinos are using facial recognition to compare videos taken during crimes, or to compare patrons with known problem gamblers.  Each stating that they discard the videos and images of non-offenders or ordinary customers, but can we really be certain all this info isn’t also being stored and potentially used for other purposes as well?

Aside from the legal issues dealing with privacy, how precise is this facial recognition software?  If it is anything like most of the software out there people from the same family seem to be confused by the software.  Different angles of the photo in question from the face forward image stored in the database can also be enough to cause mismatches.  Can these “matches” really be precise enough to justify bringing in potentially dozens if not hundreds of people for questioning based solely on a “faceprint”?  There was a recent story in the news of a man in Massachusetts losing his license because he looked too much like a known terrorist.

We are on the edge of a very dangerous slope here, where the potential for unethical use of information needs to be protected against.  Before we can start allowing new technologies to help convict the criminals, lets make sure we are protecting the rights and freedom of the innocent.




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