The FBI’s latest assault on our privacy

Tricia Owen | Freelance Writer

“Minority Report,” here we come.

The FBI wants to track us using its new facial recognition system.

No, really.

The bureau is set to roll it out as early as January. It’s part of the FBI’s “Next Generation Identification” program. And according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), FBI officials explained at a biometric conference last year that one of the agency’s goals is “for the program to be able to track people as they move from one location to another.”

The FBI’s fingerprint database now includes records on nearly one-third of Americans. But it’s now being expanded to include all sorts of biometric information, such as palm prints, iris scans, even voice information.

Right now, photos in the database have been limited to mug shots, but you can see where this is going. The EFF says law enforcement at every level will soon be allowed to search the database and submit an unlimited number of photos — of any sort — including those from public and private security cameras, even Facebook.

What does this mean? It means that it will be easier than ever for government officials to track us, which, in their own words, is their goal.

It’ll be like having a government-issued GPS system on our ankle, but not as obvious. And really, what’s the big deal if our driver’s license, which used to be a license to operate a motor vehicle, is uploaded into the system and perhaps linked to “security” cameras all across the country? If everywhere we go, cameras — public and private — recognize us? After all, the government does need to ensure we’re all safe and behaving properly.

The FBI’s new program is just the government’s latest assault on our personal privacy. Where will it end? Will we soon be lining up for DNA swabs, too? Is any intrusion aimed at preventing bad things from happening justified?

Technology seems to be making it easy for law enforcement agencies to skirt the Constitution. Sure, we’ll still have the freedom to assemble, as long as we’re willing to be tracked and photographed by the government while doing it. Sure, our papers and effects are protected from unlawful searches and seizures unless we’re flying on a plane or pulled over and an officer wants to look through our smart phone.

Perhaps lawmakers would put the kibosh on these Orwellian tactics if we turned the tables on them. If employers are able to read their employees’ emails, I think we should be able to log onto a database and read all of our elected officials’ emails, too. Every iPhone, iPad and Blackberry that the state issues to public officials should be searchable by the people those officials represent. After all, they do work for us, and there’s been enough public corruption and graft over the years to warrant it.

And, just as cab companies can put GPS systems on their cab drivers’ cars, so too should we be able to monitor where our elected officials are when they’re on the job. Furthermore, why not have surveillance cameras in all their offices that we can tap into, to ensure they’re not being bought off or doing anything wrong. And if they get caught in any act of wrongdoing, lawmakers — and other public officials — should automatically be subject to the harshest sentences.

Maybe if we held our leaders’ feet to the fire and they started feeling a pinch on their privacy, they’d be a little more respectful of ours.

Tricia Owen is a freelance writer in Atlanta, Georgia.

Tags : civil liberties privacy
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