Monday, February 4, 2008

FBI Wants to Create Massive Database of Your Personal Traits

Source: NYTimes
First off, sorry for not posting for a while, but the stomach flu and a head cold (back to back) have kept me from this blog. In any event, the feds now want even more power when it comes to knowing exactly what you are doing. First, of course, there is the Patriot Act that allowed Congress and the President to supersede judicial processes to eavesdrop on telephone conversations, among other things. I hoped that the Patriot Act would be the last piece of legislation of its kind, but if the FBI has their way it will not be.

What the feds want to do is simple: create a massive database of people's physical characteristics to better identify terrorists and criminals. It sounds OK at first glance, but the implications of this are huge. The FBI wants palm prints (as opposed to the fingerprints they already have), eye scans, mug shots and pictures of scars and tattoos. Anything that could identify a person.

So what's the problem? With this information the government (and anybody willing to pay the government) will be able to find out where you've been and when you were there. The CNN article on the subject cited a 2006 German study about facial recognition in a train station. It sounded like it was being done through surveillance cameras because it talked about the lighting during the day and during the night, meaning you can be digitally identified by simply walking by a CCTV camera.

NSA Headquarters (Source: NerdyLorrin)
One of the main arguments is that if you're not doing anything illegal then you have nothing to worry about. The problem is I like my privacy. Am I doing anything wrong? No. I just like to know I am not being watched and tracked everywhere I go (a pretty reasonable request). The bigger problem, however, is the "slippery slope" issue. Already there is talk of employers using this technology to keep tabs on their employees. For instance, the CNN article mentions a "rap-back" program in which the feds keep employees' fingerprints on file and if they get arrested or in trouble with the law they will let the employer know that said person's fingerprints came up over the weekend from whatever police department. So now the government will be keeping tabs on you for your employer (at a price, of course). Now say the employer wants to know if you were really sick on the day you called in complaining of the flu. For a little extra money the employer has the FBI run a scan for you that day to see where you've been (using security cameras that are already set up in many cities). Or say your employer just wants to know what you do for fun on the weekends. Just call the feds, they have all your information.

Additionally, if this database is created (and a company is made $1 billion richer because the government, naturally, is trusting the private sector with this) it could be the first step to numerous other blatant violations of privacy. Next could be blood samples or DNA samples to keep in a database. From there insurance companies may want your samples to make sure you're not prone to diseases (which, if you are, your premium would surely go up). The possibilities are endless.

There are those who say that the government will not abuse their power when it comes to protecting citizens. They argue that without it, we will be decimated by terrorists. We never had the Patriot Act before 9/11 and nothing happened (the only other terrorist activity came from home-grown white boys). And don't say 9/11 would not have happened if we had measures like the Patriot Act or this one in place; the warning signs were there. If you really want to improve domestic security, try pumping $1 billion into airport security. Anyway, it has been proven that the government misused the Patriot Act to get information they were not allowed to access. I'm assuming that the estimates are conservative on the feds' misuse because everyone's favorite non-partisan, totally fair attorney general Alberto Gonzales was involved.

CCTV Cameras (Source: Soft Hook)
In conclusion, this measure is one that a) is not necessary and b) highly risky. It opens up the door to so much that should not be property of the government. Eye scans and palm prints will do very little in the "war on terror." It will not make American foreign policy any better and less xenophobic. It won't make people hate America less (it would probably do the opposite). And it certainly does not seem to follow the letter of the law or American principles. Unless you want any conversation you have ever had to be published to those who know you and for everyone to know your every move, there is no reason to support this. As Benjamin Franklin said, "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

No comments:

Post a Comment