Australia is developing a crime-fighting facial recognition surveillance system that can match citizens’ faces in near real time—and they’ve given it a full-on sci-fi freakout of a name just to make sure everyone knows what they’re dealing with.
The system is known as “the capability” (which is not capitalized, but should be to really give it that Big Government oomph). According to the Guardian, civil rights groups are warning that it could have a “profound chilling effect” on protest and dissent and freedom. Guessing the name was a hint?
The technology collects driver’s license photos, passport pictures, visa application images, and other photos from state and federal government sources, and pools them in a database. All that biometric data is then compared to images culled from CCTV footage and other surveillance equipment to identify people. The only saving grace seems to be that most of us look nothing like our passport photos. That said, the matching program is fast, giving authorities near real-time identification capabilities, helping police and intelligence agencies quickly identify terror and crime suspects—and everyone else along with them.
While critics have warned of a “very substantial erosion of privacy” that comes with mass surveillance, the Guardian notes that the face verification service is already operational, while a second part to the system that would match “a photo of an anonymous person against multiple government records to help establish their identity” is still in the works.
New South Wales’s government claims it will use its powers for good (crime fighting), but it’s really hard to believe that a system called “the capability” won’t creep into the realm of mass public surveillance. You know, if they want people to accept these mass surveillance systems as friendly, maybe they should consider nicer sounding names, like KittensWatch or Rainbow Umbrella or Alexa.