You can't rely on nature for "privacy" any more

A great summary of the next great levees of human society" that is falling.

You can't rely on nature for "privacy" any more /img/face-recognition-nightmare.jpg
<a href="" target="_blank">a civil liberties nightmare</a>


(what follows is my own annotated synthesis of this Twitter thread)

The levee that is falling is “the ability to move around the physical world anonymously”.

Not so long ago it was easy to be (or not be) in some place without anybody noticing your presence, or absence. These days, thanks to automatic face recognition, even churches can turn from sanctuary to surveillance agents.

Things are even worse when you realize that this possibility may not be limited to churches or any other organization. Technically speaking, everybody walking by you in the street may instantly find out who you are and consequently, for example, where you live, with applications like Facezam:

You can't rely on nature for "privacy" any more /img/facezam.jpg
<a href="" target="_blank">If Facebook just decided to actually build Facezam, that is</a>


The reason is that in the last few years it has become technically feasible, but above all immensely cheaper, to digitize and collect not just faces, but all sorts of “patterns about human beings”. What this means is that it is possible to uniquely identify people by measuring things like their:

  • heartbeat, with a laser
  • breathing, with the RF-waves in wifi
  • walking gait, with a camera
  • geographical movements, through their phone
  • voice and emotional state, through a microphone

Sure, in small villages or neighborhoods, everybody may know everybody else, and identify them by face, gait, clothes… much more reliably than any software. But that “lack of privacy” is completely different from automatic face recognition and archival. Humans can only look at a few faces a time, are able to evaluate context, and above all, forget. Software lacks all those “leevees”.

Now, there is only one hard part still missing, for doing all this automatically, on a large scale: knowing who someone you tracked actually is, that is attaching to her an actual social security number, or equivalent legal ID. Which leads to the most important part of that thread, the obvious but crucial truth that nobody should forget these days. The fact that “you cannot rely on nature for privacy any more” means that:

“Control of and access to identity systems is more important than it has ever been before”

Oh, and before you start again with that crappy concept…

Nothing to hide in obscurity? WRONG

I already explained why “Nothing to hide” is a stupid, dangerous attitude in any sphere of life, from payments to dating. If that is not enough, this article gives even more reason why it is important to protect “physical” obscurity, that is the possibility to move around the world without anyone tracking or even noticing you:

Obscurity is vital to our well-being because it enables us to [experiment and] develop and grow as individuals, to transgress taboos and ignore arbitrary rules.”