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The Feds are building an America-wide face surveillance system and ACLU is suing (theregister.co.uk)
241 points by CapitainEvident on Nov 1, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 71 comments

I can't be the only one who gets depressed reading the news on here.

Everyday it's another article about your private information being sucked up and sold for advertising or hacked and sold to be used for stealing your identity or other nefarious shit.

Then there's the public side of gov't agencies monitoring everything in your life. At any point they can send an email to any tech company and get a full dump of your information. They're tracking everything you do online, they have cameras on every intersection recording your face.

Every cop car and repo truck is driving around collecting your license plate information tracking all your 'off-line' movements.

You can't walk around your neighborhood without your face being recorded by every paranoid household with a doorbell camera and feeding the government databases of your whereabouts.

You book a vacation and the next day every device you use connected to the internet is sending you ads about your vacation destination even though all you did was book a flight and get an email confirmation.

This sounds like some conspiracy tinfoil hat old man rant (I swear I'm non of those), but I hear regular "non-tech" people airing the same complaints more and more. It's just disappointing that there isn't an option to not participate I guess. Sorry for the long (mostly off topic) rant

> I can't be the only one who gets depressed reading the news on here. ..... This sounds like some conspiracy tinfoil hat old man rant (I swear I'm non of those), but I hear regular "non-tech" people airing the same complaints more and more. It's just disappointing that there isn't an option to not participate I guess. Sorry for the long (mostly off topic) rant

Rant on my friend. Rant on. You're not the only one getting depressed about all this lunacy. How about that yahoo article about white male depression or something. I'm sure shit like this is just another heavy rock on the pile of life we're carrying on our backs, white, male or not. It's a problem for everyone. Nineteen Eighty-Four is coming to life before our eyes. It's a damn prophecy.

I have friends who fully understand whats going on and chose to have alexas and rings in their home because they're lazy in the sense that they want to maximize their recreational and leisure time. They don't want to fiddle with the complexity of setting up their own cctv cameras, running wires and then figuring out how to remotely access it without leaving your home open to a hack. They don't want bulky PC's. They have careers, kids and a babysitter so easy peasy iot cameras with mobile phone apps are a godsend for them. They don't believe they are special enough to warrant surveillance. They say they'll just bore some eavesdropping spook. Ain't got nothing to hide.

I recently spoke with a musician who randomly complained about: operating systems that they couldn't control, phones tracking everything, ads tracking them, microphones and cameras everywhere which could be hack or backdoored, email spying by the provider, etc. They had a pretty good grasp of the situation as well. They even became proactive and opened a paid protonmail account. Then they asked about purism laptops and if they could live with using Linux.

Was even more crazy, and to your point, even tech that you wouldn't expect to be watching you is now. Google's new wifi router has microphones and speakers in it! This is insanity to me. I've converted my entire tech environment to mostly apple devices, but apple doesn't make everything, and honestly with their new business model I truly believe its only a matter of time until they too start aggregating data like Google and Amazon do.

Be careful with putting all your eggs into one basket. I'm weathering my Windows 7 desktop but I'm going to move to Linux. I have no desire to move to windows 10 and no interest in Apple products.

As for a router, have a look at the PC Engines apu2 then run pfsense on it.

That does sound awful. Here's what I do: block all ads.

I can't stop the data collection, but I can stop ads. If I ever see an ad, I stop what I'm doing and figure out how to remove that ad from my life forever.

So yeah, I'm fully tracked, and I have no privacy, but at least I'm not being influenced by the ads that come from processing all my data.

I also try to block as much data collection as possible, but I realize that's not fully in my control.

>This sounds like some conspiracy tinfoil hat old man rant (I swear I'm non of those), but I hear regular "non-tech" people airing the same complaints more and more.

Nah, people here are savvy enough to recognize it.

The term conspiracy theory was created as a way to disenfranchise reports when the government actually does something harmful. But you, like most people here, can tell the difference between something manufactured like flat earthers and NSA's machine learning projects.

I worked at a CDN and did analytics over a lot of the worlds http traffic. So yah.. sadly, it's a real problem.

What's depressing as well is that it seems every major company or government has decided to reset passwords for every user for undisclosed or precautionary reasons.

I'm not talking some worthless accounts either - I'm talking major airlines, national postal services, government business accounts, etc.

What are you referencing?

This is what it means to live in a community. The parts of life that happen outside the home are conducted in view of other people, who are constantly updating their profiles of you based on their observations and broadcasting any detected anomalies on the original gossip protocol. For a time, food and urban planning tech advances let us scale settlements past what our built-in organic surveillance networks could handle, and the gap gave us some privacy for once. But it seems inevitable that surveillance tech would eventually catch up.

It may not be all bad. Technological surveillance could at least be subject to oversight and regulation, where old school family- and community-based social norms monitoring could not.

For the record, I don't have a doorbell camera because I'm paranoid - I have it because I'm lazy AF.

In 2012, in a concurring opinion on a case involving warrantless GPS tracking, justice Sonya Sotomayor wrote:

"More fundamentally, it may be necessary to reconsider the premise that an individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy in information voluntarily disclosed to third parties. This approach is ill suited to the digital age, in which people reveal a great deal of information about themselves to third parties in the course of carrying out mundane tasks."

Just wondering when we're actually going to reconsider that premise and its legal cognates.

I hate getting political, but this is one of Andrew Yang's platform staples and is immediately relevant to your question. Look up his ideas about Data as a Right.

If it is to be political, I would rather target the legislative branch who can actually do something about this. It doesn't make sense to worry about the promises of a politician trying to get elected into the executive branch.

I don't think Andrew Yang has any expectation of actually becoming the Democratic candidate, let alone getting elected. Seems like he's just trying to bring new ideas to the debate stage because candidates actually trying to get elected won't risk straying too far from familiar ideas.

"I would rather target the legislative branch who can actually do something about this. It doesn't make sense to worry about the promises of a politician trying to get elected into the executive branch."

Presidents have a major influence on what lawmakers do.

First, they're the ostensible leader of their party, and to the extent they actually can and do lead, they can influence the rest of the party, including the legislature.

Second, they can also greatly influence the relationship with the opposition party, as has been made eminently clear from the polarizing effect that Obama, Bush Jr, and Trump had on their opposition.

Third, they have one of the world's biggest megaphones that they can use to push for their agenda. Witness the galvanizing effect of Kennedy's call for a space race or the Peace Corps.

Fourth, they have veto power over legislation. While legislation can still pass over a Presidential veto, it has to have a lot more support in Congress, which means that controversial reforms will have a much harder time passing.

Fifth, they can sign executive orders, which (in lieu of legislation) can also have a great effect.

Statutory protection would be an improvement, but it would be far better to have this recognized at the Constitutional level, which Yang can't really do.

The Court already reconsidered the third-party doctrine in Carpenter v. United States last year and ruled that accessing extensive cell site location records without a warrant is a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

“Reasonable expectation of privacy” appears nowhere in the constitution. So you’re talking about adding more gloss on what is already a gloss.

While not explicitly mentioned, the right to privacy is guaranteed by the constitution in several ways.

"Although the Bill of Rights does not explicitly mention "privacy", Justice William O. Douglas wrote for the majority that the right was to be found in the "penumbras" and "emanations" of other constitutional protections, such as the self-incrimination clause of the Fifth Amendment. Douglas wrote, "Would we allow the police to search the sacred precincts of marital bedrooms for telltale signs of the use of contraceptives? The very idea is repulsive to the notions of privacy surrounding the marriage relationship." Justice Arthur Goldberg wrote a concurring opinion in which he used the Ninth Amendment in support of the Supreme Court's ruling. Justice Byron White and Justice John Marshall Harlan II wrote concurring opinions in which they argued that privacy is protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment."


>Just wondering when we're actually going to reconsider that premise and its legal cognates.

We're not. It's very simple: you're talking about something like the EU's GPDR. We can't do that, because the EU did it, and since we're America and we're Exceptional, we can't ever copy anything that someone else does. So it'll never happen here.

We have all the ingredients for Minority Report.

Recording devices in people's homes (alexa, siri, google).

AI inference that can be trained to predict violent crimes based on data from these always on devices.

Nation wide person tracking system, just using faces instead of eyeballs.

Yes yes, the always on devices are only on when you activate them with a keyword. So what. Once MicroGoogleZon proves that they can "prevent crimes" every non-tech person will want this in their home. We even see techies eschew privacy and champion fall detection systems that can report someone falling over in their home to the authorities.

Is it worth it?

Funny, I like the slightly different version of MicroGooFaZon - because it includes that other org. which has a "few bytes" of data on lots of people, plus it sounds even goofier. ;-) But, right on with your comments.

Aw shucks, that's even better!

My girlfriend's cellphone displays ads pertaining to our conversations. No wake word needed when some app has managed to seize mic access.

I've noticed the same thing on android. A number of ads or google feed items. Regarding something I talked about, but didn't search for.

This was while google services was denied access to the microphone. Via android permissions.

I partly miss my phone that had a removable battery. I felt more comfortable that it was fully off. But I know even that isn't fully accurate.

Where/when does it display the?

A few seconds later in browser.

Holy shiitake, pardon my Japanese.

One thing that not one has brought up yet is the amazing ability for the U.S. government to mishandle data in their possession. Office of Personnel Management can't even securely handle data for government workers and contractors. Are we to believe the F.B.I. is going to be any better with data about the American public? I'm sure they'll try harder this time to keep data safe from foreign governments.

Weird. Nobody wants to limit the authority of the government until the government is infringing upon something they care about.

If only there was some concept where we could specifically enumerate powers to the government, and that's all the government was allowed to do.

...Which wasn't undermined by constant torture of language and politically motivated misinterpretation, or subject to the whims of a highly constrained review mechanism in terms of being conclusively enforced/struck down?

Or flaunted with the understanding that the population of people that can actually call out your legislation is astoundingly small given that most have to survive as law abiding citizens while also being potentially harmed by malicious regulation that gets crammed through without review by any interpretive representative in order to ensure the authors fully understand second, third and fourth order consequences?

Sure would be...

How about this for a start:

>The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.


The best government is no government.

Only on paper in a utopia. That does not work on a landmass with 327 million people that are trying to engage in commerce, build homes and maintain infrastructure in their communities. You need some managing body to orchestrate the funding, management and execution of a civilization whether its a handful of families or a nation covering half a continent. Having no government for those is a logistical impossibility.

Better to say "the best corruption is no corruption". That is at least marginally less refutable.

Not necessarily a utopia. It could work; if you want an explanation of how check out the following book: https://www.dropbox.com/s/yd18waixbva1jae/WhatAnarchyIsnt-FR...

I recall a story about street performers in London demanding -- and getting -- copies of the videos of them doing their thing which were captured by CCTV. Just because something is performed in public doesn't make it legal to record it, and unless you sign a contract to the contrary, in the US you retain copyright to all original performances.

So... if you posit that your life is an act of performance art can you sue the intelligence agencies for violation of copyright by making and storing recordings of your original artwork (especially if you have the habit of working on your Silly Walk and speaking in impressionistic voices throughout your day)?

There is precedent in the US that this could be fair use.

> After considering the four factors in the aggregate, the court finds that the fair use doctrine does apply to the City of Radford Police Department's use of Shell's photographs and other works. As long as the use remains solely for the dual purposes of permitting City of Radford law enforcement officers to properly investigate allegedly criminal acts and to use that evidence in any subsequent criminal proceedings, it will be a fair use and not a violation of the Copyright Act.


The key point is that it's part of an active and specific law enforcement investigation. This would NOT apply to full-spectrum, dragnet surveillance/copying of the performance art I call my life, especially when there's not even the suspicion of me being involved with anything more devious than questioning the existence of the GPL.

>I recall a story about street performers in London demanding -- and getting -- copies of the videos of them doing their thing which were captured by CCTV.

If I recall correctly, a pop bad, played in different streets, and then asked for, and made a video with those recordings of them...

Found it -- though it appears it was not entirely accurate:


Good idea though!

I just posted a link to this on my FB page and a friend responded with this:

"I was protesting at Bohemian Grove several years ago when an FBI agent came up to me, took a pic of my face and said have you heard of facial recognition technology? I was shocked but not surprised. As an intimidation tactic, it was pretty effective."

Real question- could face surveillance be one of the reasons multiple governments have banned niqabs or face veils?

It's certainly the excuse given. "You can't hide your face in public spaces with niqabs or balaclavas for security reasons". The worrying part is that people are OK with it

Perhaps the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster should add niqabs to their official clothing list, as an initial counter to this face surveillance crap. Could be useful at least in the jurisdictions that don't ban them.

Probably not. The ban in Turkey dates to 1980, and in Europe to the early 2000s. This technology didn’t really exist back then. Several states that have enacted the ban (Kosovo, Tunisia) don’t have the technology to do this kind of surveillance.

There have been laws banning masks for ages. There were laws like that in parts of the US well over 100 years ago. It should be pretty obvious why: you can commit a crime with a mask and not be identified.

Previous and current discussion https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21412356

The ACLU is well worth donating to. Indeed, I just did, again.

They’ve been doing this for a very long time. I’m less worried about the government and more worried about private corporations doing this.

Given the government’s history of regulatory capture, which we already arguably see in areas of financial regulation, the possibility that the government could be coopted by private corporations to carry out mass surveillance cannot be ignored.

See also from yesterday extensive discussion on ACLU's announcement:


I'm traveling in Europe and get a cookies/privacy notice on every single site. There's no new information provided. It's just obnoxious.

Original title was too long: The Feds are building an America-wide face surveillance system – and we're going to court to prove it, says ACLU

The freeway system in the US is logging traffic with cameras. This goes far beyond the DOT's cameras in the cities & border patrol checkpoints. Would not be surprised if every mile of concrete/asphalt in the national freeway system is covered by cameras these days.

I guess “they have your old drivers license photo” is technically an America-wide surveillance system?

Would you not want a law enforcement body to be able to query against photos legally obtained?

Now, if they’re running additional programs with broader means (the FBI do not answer the ACLU on this which is why they’re suing) that is a different matter, but the ACLU does not assert this, only that it may be possible (and for that reason it should be stopped).

There's a huge qualitative difference.

Prior to this technology, a detective could certainly go with a suspect's name to the secretary of state and compare a driver's license photo with a security camera image. I have no issue with that, and I suspect the ACLU doesn't either. Subsequently, they're able to passively monitor all security camera images and compare them to millions of driver's license photos to track the locations of people not under investigation: that's a vastly different action.

This does far more than make it more difficult for the guilty to get away with crimes. That's not a cause anyone would advocate for. What it does that people are rallying against is that it makes it far easier for the innocent to be wrongly charged. And the old maxim that it's better for 10 guilty to go free than one innocent be punished would suggest it's wrong to pursue the former at the expense of the latter. Institutions like law enforcement will always seek to increase their power, that power needs to be limited by society's concerns for the rights and freedoms of its members.

>This does far more than make it more difficult for the guilty to get away with crimes. That's not a cause anyone would advocate for.

Actually, I'll advocate for it. What you're saying assumes a perfect law, but actually there are plenty of crimes that should not be crimes. People should be able to get away with those, despite being legally guilty according to a standard set by whatever group is in power.

Imagine if everyone who ever carried an ounce of weed got caught and locked up for it. A perfectly effective law enforcement system leaves no room for societal adjustment and changing norms through noncompliance. There has to be cost and human effort involved in enforcing the law.

I don't think the ACLU would have a problem with the FBI going to the secretary of state with a picture of someone from a security tape committing a crime. If the FBI has entered into a data sharing agreement around drivers license photos and has governance to keep the data set to a certain use case and there are rules around it I don't think the ACLU would much mind that either.

The issue here is that the ACLU (and citizens) do not know whether the FBI has any of this governance in place or is using additional photo sources for this matching (like public security feeds, or other aggregated security feeds / image capture)

I completely agree that law enforcement agencies will always seek to [reduce barriers to getting what they believe they need] and that we should limit this as a society.

While it's easy to abuse and leads to dark conclusions, all I'm trying to suggest is that the FBI may have actually considered appropriate usage of facial recognition and deliberately NOT gone down the rabbit hole you're discussing. Because we don't know, we have to assume the answer might be yes, but those facts have not been established, which is why the ACLU is suing.

How is this different than the FBI's longstanding fingerprint database? Just asking.

You ever had your fingerprints taken without you knowing and consenting/ being under arrest?

I remember going on a “field trip” to the local police station early in elementary school age where they demonstrated fingerprinting on all 10 digits. Also had an Ident-a-kid ID, which had a thumbprint on it.

While I technically “knew” my fingerprints were being taken, I guess, I certainly was not of any age where I could informedly consent to the action. Who knows what’s happened to them? (Probably nothing, but that’s definitely not a certainty in my mind.)

This is obviously more pervasive / invasive. How often did you identify yourself by fingerprint vs. every camera potentially pings your identity as you pass by.

The ACLU does not state that the FBI is doing this. They are suing to determine what policies the government has in place around facial recognition to determine whether they are allowed under current policy to do what you’re talking about.

He didn't say they were, the parent asked how it was different from fingerprints.

Right, but the ACLU article nor the Register summary do not indicate the FBI is using public video sources for this. The possibility is certainly there for abuse, but we'll have to wait for the lawsuit results to see if it is different from fingerprints.

Possibly because taking useful photos of people's fingerprints from a distance seems like a problem. Taking photos of faces seems more like solved tech.

A street camera probably can't identify you by your fingerprints.

Your neighbor's Ring camera is not recording your fingerprint every time you get out of your house.

Now you just made me wonder when Ring will include a fingerprint scanner that uploads a print & checks someone's background every time they ring your doorbell.

We're going to need the scramble suits from A Scanner Darkly.

Generally speaking, police and security agencies have more rights to collect data and tap lines. This is true regardless of the country and how many protections they have.

Judging by comments, GDPR is something people in US may like. It may satiate a lot of concerns consumers balk at.

Did you know GDPR doesn't apply to law enforcement/security agencies collecting data?

Even if US changed (whatever that would mean, I don't know) regulations/laws in this respect, there's still going to be mechanisms where data has to be bulk collected for a security purpose.

The reason why is nobody has devised a way to know for sure what's interesting, at the time, while it goes through the wire, reliably, because it'd require being able to predict the future.

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