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    Op-Ed at Economist: Every step you take

    An opinion column in the Economist says that new privacy safeguards are needed as facial-recognition technology improves and cameras are better able to identify individuals in public spaces:

    Citizens of rich countries have got used to being watched by closed-circuit cameras that guard roads and cities. But as cameras shrink and the cost of storing data plummets, it is individuals who are taking the pictures.

    Some 10,000 people are already testing a prototype of Google Glass, a miniature computer worn like spectacles (see article). It aims to replicate all the functions of a smartphone in a device perched on a person’s nose. Its flexible frame holds both a camera and a tiny screen, and makes it easy for users to take photos, send messages and search for things online.

    Glass may fail, but a wider revolution is under way. In Russia, where insurance fraud is rife, at least 1m cars already have cameras on their dashboards that film the road ahead. Police forces in America are starting to issue officers with video cameras, pinned to their uniforms, which record their interactions with the public.

    Ubiquitous recording can already do a lot of good. […]

    The bigger worry is for those in front of the cameras, not behind them. […] And the huge, looming issue is the growing sophistication of face-recognition technologies, which are starting to enable businesses and governments to extract information about individuals by scouring the billions of images online. The combination of cameras everywhere—in bars, on streets, in offices, on people’s heads—with the algorithms run by social networks and other service providers that process stored and published images is a powerful and alarming one. We may not be far from a world in which your movements could be tracked all the time, where a stranger walking down the street can immediately identify exactly who you are. […]

    Still, as cameras become smaller, more powerful and ubiquitous, new laws may be needed to preserve liberty. Governments should be granted the right to use face-recognition technology only where there is a clear public good (identifying a bank robber for instance). When the would-be identifiers are companies or strangers in the street, the starting-point should be that you have the right not to have your identity automatically revealed. The principle is the same as for personal data. Just as Facebook and Google should be forced to establish high default settings for privacy (which can be reduced at the user’s request), the new cameras and recognition technologies should be regulated so as to let you decide whether you remain anonymous or not.

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