Sometime in the near future, the federal government will be able to trace your every move by using the expansive network of CCTV cameras in the U.S. in coordination with a new $1 billion program that uses facial recognition software to track and locate suspects. But don’t worry, it will only ever be used to reduce “terrorist and criminal activities.”
No, this is not the plot of a Brad Thor book, this is real life.
The FBI, working with Lockheed Martin Transportation and Security Solutions and IBM, is almost ready to unveil its Next Generation Identification program, which has reportedly been in development for years.
The FBI claims the goal of the program “is to reduce terrorist and criminal activities by improving and expanding biometric identification and criminal history information services through research, evaluation, and implementation of advanced technology.”
“The NGI system will expand fingerprint processing capacity and will now also include palm prints, iris and facial recognition capabilities. Additionally, the system requires a significant degree of technical flexibility in order to accommodate other biometric modalities that may mature and become important to law enforcement efforts in the future,” a Lockheed Martin press release states.
As Gizmodo points out, using new fingerprint analysts and databases to identify criminals faster will undoubtedly be a valuable tool for local and federal law enforcement, however, other biometric parameters are ripe for abuse, most notably, facial recognition.
With this system, the FBI and its collaborating administrations would be able to apply facial identification to any image source. Using a much more sophisticated version of the technology found in Facebook or iPhoto, law enforcement agents would be able to quickly go through catalogs of mugshots, images of tattoos or even street photos in search of specific individuals. And of course, that includes an expansive network of CCTV cameras that dot landscapes and street corners across the country.
While America will not become a science fiction Big Brother movie for the time being, you can be sure that this is where we are going. Older video cameras didn’t have neither the resolution nor the connectivity to work with a centralized, sophisticated facial recognition system. But this has changed fast: ultra-cheap, inexpensive HD cameras are now being installed everywhere and, very soon, the ability of anyone with access to such system to track everyone on the streets will be an omnipresent reality.
Just think about this: in the New York subway system alone, there are now 3700 security cameras online. Three thousand and seven hundred cameras is a network that you can’t escape unless you wear a balaclava. Of those, a remarkable 507 are “providing live feeds to NYPD’s Command Center from three key transit hubs: Grand Central Station, Penn Station, and Times Square.” And that number is growing.
This type of surveillance superiority has been a long time coming. In 2009, the feds reportedly gave state and local law enforcement $300 million to pay for additional CCTV cameras to monitor the streets and now it seems like there is a camera on nearly every street corner in certain cities. And while the U.S. may be better off than the U.K., where there are roughly 14 citizens per CCTV camera, it is still alarming to see the surveillance capabilities of law enforcement here at home expanding so drastically.
Gizmodo may have said it best: “1984 is arriving a little bit late, but it’s getting here soon.”