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Historians are using facial recognition to identify people in Civil War photos (slate.com)
59 points by prismatic 3 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 40 comments

For all the people talking about consent in this thread... I just want to point out that the Civil War significantly predated the phone camera, modern digital cameras, or even the first film point and shoot cameras.

We call it “posing” for a photo because they literally had to pose without moving for at least 15 minutes (and probably more in the mid-1800s).. just like you would have to remain in-place holding a pose for hours while having your portrait painted in the eras past.

Interesting fact: it’s also the reason why photos from the 1900s all feature the same grim countenance and subjects look like they’ve lost all interest in life - it’s not possible to hold a friendly face for the duration of time it takes the film to expose.

There are a couple myths here. Civil War photography achieved shutter speeds on the order of seconds, and camera technology isn't the strongest explanation for the lack of smiles.

Source: http://time.com/4568032/smile-serious-old-photos/

Interesting. Early photograph subjects may have posed as if they were objects of portrait painting. And

> Though saints might be depicted with faint smiles, wider smiles were “associated with madness, lewdness, loudness, drunkenness, all sorts of states of being that were not particularly decorous,” says Trumble.

I like this type of application for this technology. A good tightrope rabbit hole is: what if "the unknown soldier" is identified writ large?

Personally, I would love to have some folks in Ye Olde Family Photographs identified.

For those that aren’t aware, at least in the case of the United States, the soldier buried in The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier’s identity was not initially unknown. They started off with several bodies of appropriate stature whose identity was known (but closely guarded) to those that procured them, then mixed them up and played a game of shells with the coffins to purposely un-know the identity.

All that is to say, if somehow “facial recognition” could identify the remains of the Unknown Soldier, the hope is that whosoever discovers that keeps it to themself.

> whose identity was known (but closely guarded)

I can't find any resources online to confirm this - everything seems to indicate several unknown soldiers were exhumed and one was selected (from each conflict). Do you have any pointers to references where I could learn more?

> For those that aren’t aware, at least in the case of the United States, the soldier buried in The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier’s identity was not initially unknown

Th soldier initially buried in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was from World War I. He has not been identified. Subsequently, unknown soldiers from World War II and Korea were interred and neither has been identified,

The unknown soldier from Vietnam was identified. That crypt remains empty as the suspect that all remains from Vietnam will someday be identified,

The question is, does that justify working on that kind of technology? Dual use is a bit to friendly of a wording here. This is a step into a dystopia we have taken a while back.

We're doing something similar for school archive photos in our product. We use class photos to find student labels, then use that to cross reference other photos around the same time period.

This work is unethical. Those people never approved for their privacy to be violated in such a flagrant way.

Would you approve researchers from 100 years in the future using facial recognition to identify and shame meat-eating bastards from today, such as you or your friends, such that for example your work and legacy to be de-platformed?

Sarcasm? If so, it's very well done.

If not:

> Would you approve researchers from 100 years in the future using facial recognition to identify and shame meat-eating bastards from today, such as you or your friends, such that for example your work and legacy to be de-platformed?

My approval has nothing to do with it. I don't own photons after they bounce off my face. And I don't own anything after I'm dead.

>My approval has nothing to do with it. I don't own photons after they bounce off my face.

They should not exist in the first place, except made by people who have my clear consent for that specific picture. And those would know the limitations on publishing them.

Mass surveillance is a clear and apparent threat to society. The idea of a completely transparent human without any shred of privacy left is simply abhorrent.

Hello 1984

edit: I read "Photos"

No. At least in the US you have no rights to photos taken of you in a public place except for certain specific situations. For examples, photos used for commercial purposes (e.g. ads, marketing materials) in which you are clearly recognizable (not part of a crowd shot) require model releases. However if I take a photo of you on the street and publish it in a personal blog, article, etc. you basically have no recourse. If you hold your breath and turn purple, I might take it down to make you go away but I have no obligation to do so.

I am not from the US and have no plans to ever go there. Germany has the righ to the use of the personal image. "Recht am eigenen Bild". There are limits, as when you are just a person in a crowd or a person of public interests, but focused shots without your consent are generally a no go. It is part of the right for "Informational self-determination"

What you are describing as a "right" is actually nothing more than an abridgment of the right to conduct simple journalism. You have no right to direct what I remember and your government has carefully spun this to ensure that you can't remember what you want to without being subject to absurd legal frameworks.

Fortunately, at least for the moment, this law is not enforced, as evinced by the people taking photos of people all over the place in Berlin without asking for "consent."

It is a basic human right. Sadly one you do not enjoy. And I am sorry it is that way.

I didnt think I had to have this kind of discussion here. What would I say to a person that thought freedom of religion was nothing but a legal framework?

I am making a moral argument here. Developing facial recognition software is a step towards a dystopia

I come to Germany all the time. The reality on the ground is no different: people enjoy a right to use cameras (and otherwise conduct journalism). I didn't even realize you had this absolutely stupid law on the books, but for your sake, I'm glad its unenforced.

Tbh I am shoked that this is that big of a cultural difference, but i guess god to know? The right to ones private information is one of the core principles of the German Hacker community.

Do you by any chance have some material on the moral position of the US hacker community on privacy? It seemed I assumed far to many similarities.

I suspect that the position of most in the "US hacker community," whatever that means, is that public information is public. Individuals may have issues with the government or large corporations harvesting data in a systematic way but I'm pretty sure most would be reluctant to restrict, for example, individuals taking photos in public places. In general, the US tilts more toward the rights of individuals to say/write/publish as they please than Europe probably does.

If anything, the "US hacker community" is probably more suspicious of the government restricting such rights than the population as a whole is.

No, it is not a cultural difference. People in Germany do not largely believe that they own every particle that bounces off of them. Your position is ridiculous and not widely held.

Thats a hypothesis you can easily test the next time you are in Germany. Shove random people in the street a camera in the face and scream "PHOTONS WANT TO BE FREE".

People in both places will react negatively to having their personal space invaded. People in both places will react positively to freedom of journalism and expression.

Although there are many cultural differences between our homes, this is not one of them.

I can't imagine how any place where freedom can prevail might go about telling you that you are required to avert your eyes on the basis of someone not wanting to be seen.

This seem like basic physics to me: if photons come to me, I can record them. Simple.

Photos. As in pictures. Physical copies.

Your eyes dont have a log function. You can look at your partner during sex for certain, but secretly filming them and sharing the pictures is clearly wrong.

> Photos. As in pictures. Physical copies

I know where you are coming from and what point you are trying to make, but to play devil’s advocate this analogy does not age gracefully in the digital age.

Obvious counter: what about digital photos? They don’t “exist” physically, as they are only a particular arrangement of existing electrons coaxed into a particular low-entropy state.

But to take it further in a less witty fashion, it seems that in the space of a very few short years sexting has gone from “edge” to “mainstream” and people you are “authorized” to “see” IRL are now people that willingly send you digital photos of themselves in compromising outfits or various states of undress. This time they are not giving you photons but digital files, probably with the intention of them “expiring” within the near future (when the snap/what-have-you expires) or with the presumption that they either magically disappear when the sexual relationship comes to an end or with the presumption that the relationship will last forever. What then?

I didnt think I would comment on the second part, but it is really bugging me. Sorry for the double post.

Distributing sexted images that were meant for you is something I would consider to be wrong. Do you disagree with that?


It seems to be also illegal in the US? Is there an assumption of consent for replication given during the transmitting in your cultural sphere?

I never assumed there was that big of a difference in something I consider one of the most basic degrees of morality. Not just as a society, but also as the names states "hackers". In Germany we have the CCC, the chaos communication club (you might know the chaos communication congress). Their mission statement is the hacker ethic


>Make public data available, protect private data.

>To protect the privacy of the individual and to strengthen the freedom of the information which concern the public the yet last point was added.

It was best summarized by one of the CCC speakers on the topic of "Celebgate". It was across the lines of "ofcourse you can look at it, but then you're just an asshole"

Intimate pictures of another person are private data and should only be accessible to people the person consented to.

edit: Ok the definition on wikipedia actually differs with the translation

>The term is also often misused to describe non 'revenge' scenarios, including nonconsensual pornography distributed by hackers or by individuals seeking profit or notoriety.

Well thats dark

> German High Court made a May 2014 ruling that intimate photographs of partners should be deleted if the partner so requests.[112]

I was not referring to distribution, merely holding on to.

We dont really make that distinction with copy righted material either. Digital copies are still no more permitted then copied books.

I suspect you are a troll.

Of course my eyes have a log function. It's called my brain.

And how that's relevant to the simple physical discussion of your claim to ownership of all particles with which you've ever come into contact is beyond me.

I would normally not repsond that long, but your account is old enough to not be a troll.

Do you really mean what you say here? I am talking about it being morally wrong to make pictures of you to share with someone else if you do not consent. You brain does not have a print function.

Is this a misunderstanding because you still havent realized that I am not talking about photons but photos?

No. I have to believe that you are being intentionally obtuse.

You are essentially taking the position that anywhere you go, I am suddenly not permitted to photograph that place without your specific consent.

This is the obvious position of tyrants. Its what every corrupt or brutal police officer says to us when we use cameras for defense.

Then, you are taking the position that somehow, your position is actually a bulwark against dystopia.

I don't make a distinction, for the purposes of my basic, fundamental human rights (such as to the fruits of my vision, including journalism) between photons and photos.

I am unable to understand any consistent way to apply your position that doesn't include a claim that the literal, physical particles that bounce off or you and into my sensor are somehow your property.

This is just an absurd position on its face. I don't know why I'm still arguing with you.

Fortunately, we live in a physical world and you are unable to interrupt the basic principles of physical reality, including the fact that photos come into my position regardless of your "consent". Thus, I'll just take your photo, I won't ask consent, and we'll all live with that.

> You[r] brain does not have a print function.

If you've been trained to draw or paint, it certainly does.

So is it morally wrong to draw or paint without consent?

I do tend to agree with you, if we're talking about surveillance of the weak in the panopticon. But if we're talking about surveillance of the powerful, in the course of protecting human rights generally, I'd say that anything goes.

You are trying to tell me that I can't take a picture of anything without the specific consent of every organism off of which every photon that enters my sensor most recently bounced?

And you are calling my comment dystopic?!

Do I need to walk around with my eyes closed also? Or simply agree not to remember you without your consent?

Photos. Of a sentient human being who dont want to be photographed



edit: or on non sexual voyeurists


>Phuc said the image haunted her for decades, as she struggled to come to terms with its shadow and legacy, the embarrassment and pain it conjured.

How do you know the Civil War soldiers being discussed here didn't want to be photographed?

I think one can safely assume consent was given for them to exist, considering the slow and complicated nature of photography at the time.

It would be impossible to have any sort of historical record if all artifacts, including photos, were burned or disposed of after a person's death because they didn't leave explicit permissions for their use in the future. It's difficult to see how a right to privacy for persons a hundred years dead even exists, much less can be violated, in this case.

You are responding to the wrong post. I was strictly talking about my parent post.

I (author of that comment) responded also, and you haven't answered.

To put it differently: what gives you the right to disrupt my vision anywhere you go? Am I supposed to try to blur my memories of you?

If I am able to, from biologically recorded memory, recreate a perfect image of you, do you regard me biological brain as criminal?

Most importantly: what makes you think that you own particles that bounce off of your skin? This seems like the maximum bound for egotism in a physical universe. Does this apply to all particles in your model? Or just photons?

Well I'm a sentiment human being too. And I was born with eyes (which capture light) and a brain (which stores photographic detail about that entering light).

Additionally, I have many other hardware cameras in addition to the ones that I was born with.

How can you possibly have a "right" to dictate what I do with the photons that come to me? How can you claim them? If they're your property, why did you let them drift into my sensory organs in the first place?

Those stories are about a rather specific type of photo in situations that most people would reasonably consider to be private.

If you really don't want to have a photo taken, in say a public park, I'm not sure what to say. Too bad.

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