I thought I’d still post here from time to time but it seems this place is dead. If anyone out there is or ever was interested I now blog exclusively at here. Actually, even if you are not and never have been interested I demand that you go there now.
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Facial recognition: the case for and against ‘total surveillance’
November 22, 2011
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Aussies the face of facial recognition
RAW VISION: See why local face recognition developers NICTA are at the forefront of surveillance technology. (No sound)
Video feedbackVideo settings
identify criminals using grainy CCTV or mobile footage
automatically pick people on terror watchlist
proactive crime fighting and monitoring
quicker and better Customs checks at airports
check multiple identities simultaneously
richer online services (Facebook, Google)
risk for total surveillance
potential for abuse
people don’t necessarily know they’re being watched
the evidence on its own won’t hold up in court
can’t change face if “hacked”
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Australian researchers believe they have solved the “holy grail” problem of face recognition.
Is it the most significant policing technology since DNA testing or the next privacy disaster waiting to happen, setting us on the path towards, as The Guardian’s editor puts it, “total surveillance”?
The battle lines have been drawn over face recognition technology, development of which Australia is at the forefront.
While NSW Police is keeping mum, the Australian Federal Police called face recognition a “potent tool” for linking criminals to crime while Customs said it could allow airport security clearances to be carried out in a more seamless fashion.
University of Queensland professor Brian Lovell won an international award for applying face recognition to low-quality CCTV footage.
Private companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple are also investing heavily in face recognition.
University of Queensland professor Brian Lovell, project leader at federal government body NICTA’s advanced surveillance project, earlier this month won a global Asia-Pacific ICT Alliance award for his team’s five-year project, which he says solved the “holy grail” problem of face recognition.
For the first time, Lovell says he and his team have been able to use grainy, low quality CCTV video footage to identify individuals from databases and even find and track people as they move around an area.
Facebook’s “Tag Suggestions” feature. Photo: Sophos
“Our ‘face search’ is like a Google search in that we can search through very large databases very fast,” said Lovell.
“We do recognition in real-time so you walk up to a system and you’re recognised; it can search a database of 10,000 or 50,000 instantaneously and do the matching.”
You won’t know you’re being watched
But further to that, the technology doesn’t even need to have people looking into the camera for it to work, which is a current limitation of the SmartGate technology at airports.
“What we specialise in is non-cooperative surveillance, that means the person doesn’t have to be aware that they are being photographed to be recognised,” said Lovell.
Lovell said movies had given the false impression that police have long been able to do face recognition but in reality they can only do it when the image quality is extremely high and on a very limited basis.
“We’re working with police … we’re in Canberra at the moment – virtually all the local agencies that you’d be thinking of we’re probably talking to them,” he said.
Lovell, who wouldn’t give specifics about formal trials in Australia, said that for example if there was an assault on a taxi driver the police could use low quality footage from the surveillance camera inside the cab to match against its photo database and identify the assailant.
It could also be used by police for automated pro-active policing rather than checking CCTV footage after a crime has been committed or getting humans to monitor footage in real time.
‘Privacy disaster waiting to happen’
Privacy advocates are already up in arms while the Australian Privacy Commissioner, Timothy Pilgrim, has expressed concerns.
“Face recognition is the next personal information security and privacy disaster waiting to happen,” said David Vaile, executive director of the UNSW Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre, adding that once your face has been hacked there is nothing you can do.
“The extra dimension of face recognition is that it is a form of biometric identifier. Unlike passwords or credit cards, they cannot be ‘revoked’ and replaced if hacked – see the surgery Tom Cruise needed in Minority Report when the baddies were after him.”
Both Vaile and the head of the Australian Privacy Foundation, Roger Clarke, expressed concerns surrounding the accuracy of face recognition including the potential for significant “false positives”.
But Lovell said he recently conducted a trial at an unnamed airport and out of 4000 passengers from all over the world, his technology was able to pick out 11 of 12 persons of interest.
He said performance of the system depended largely on capture conditions; in airports it could obtain “close to 100 per cent” accuracy but at night performance would be lower. “At CeBit Sydney we had virtually no errors in three days of testing and demonstration,” said Lovell.
He said his technology was the natural progression of the SmartGate system at Australian airports but in addition to keeping a lookout for people on a watchlist it could also be used by airports to track how long it takes passengers to move through the terminal.
Google is one of the largest technology industry players working on face recognition and related technologies. This year it acquired face recognition firm PittPatt and it has previously bought another similar biometric firm, Neven Vision.
Already, Google Images allows people to search using photos, including images of people; however Google says this is not true face recognition. Additionally, the latest version of Google Android allows people to use their face to unlock their phone but users have already tricked the security tool using photographs.
Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt remarked recently that face recognition technology now had “surprising accuracy” but such accuracy was “very concerning” due to the privacy implications.
‘Formidable infrastructure for total surveillance’
The editor-in-chief of The Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, in his 2011 Orwell lecture earlier this month, revealed that he had a conversation with a “senior Google figure” who was musing about the potential of Google face recognition software, “whose effects are so far reaching the company can’t quite yet decide what to do with it”.
Rusbridger said the Google exec told him the software could match a face to a name with any images sitting anywhere on the web, as long as one match had been made.
“What made this so troubling he said, is that digital spiders could then crawl the web and find every picture in the public domain and match it with an identity,” he said.
“So the moment one match is made it would be possible to scan every street or crowd scene over several decades to see where a particular individual was. Link that to the sort of all-pervasive CCTV systems we have in this country [Britain] and you have a formidable infrastructure – current, but also historical – for total surveillance.”
Google refused to comment on this.
Facebook is also working heavily on face recognition and uses the technology in its “Tag Suggest” feature, which is able to automatically tag friends in photos that users upload. And last year, Apple bought Swedish face recognition firm Polar Rose.
Former cyber cop turned private security consultant Nigel Phair said there were “lots of good national security and law enforcement reasons” for adopting face recognition but the private sector should be careful, pointing out that Google learned the hard way via several Street View court cases that business interests did not outweigh the rights of individuals over their own image.
“The concept obviously does not sit well with civil liberties as personally identifying information (a person’s face) is being captured, analysed, matched and retained against their knowledge,” said Phair.
Significant privacy impacts: Privacy Commissioner
The Australian Privacy Commissioner, Timothy Pilgrim, said biometric technology including facial recognition was a “rapidly evolving area that may have significant privacy impacts, particularly when combined with CCTV and other public surveillance technology”.
Pilgrim said privacy was not an absolute right and needed to be balanced against other considerations including national security and law enforcement.
“However, given the potential for facial recognition technology to be privacy invasive, I believe that the adoption of this technology by government agencies or organisations must be carefully considered,” said
Pilgrim added that he expected agencies and organisations to conduct “privacy impact assessments” before rolling out face recognition. Customers should be informed with full details about any surveillance done.
NSW Deputy Privacy Commissioner John McAteer, who oversees NSW public sector agency privacy matters, said law enforcement bodies like the NSW Police were broadly exempt from NSW privacy law and state law already provided broad police powers when it came to surveillance.
He did not have a problem with state agencies using face recognition for specific crime fighting or other purposes (i.e. to look into a suspect after a crime has been committed). A similar tool, automatic numberplate recognition, was now widely used in NSW.
“However to run an application against the general populace (without their knowledge or consent) which identifies the individual person where they are in effect being investigated across the world wide web (unless they are a suspect in a matter), would appear contrary to the general functions of police or law enforcement bodies,” said McAteer.
“Collecting broad criminal intelligence is one thing, but manipulating a huge information database to match it to random individuals (or large sectors or groups of the populace) not under investigation would offend the basic principles of privacy and privacy law.”
Lovell said he was talking to agencies in Australia, including airports, but he expected his face recognition technology to be rolled out overseas first, pointing to significant demand for use at events like the 2012 London Olympics.
“In terms of international deployments I’m expecting two airports within the next few months, maybe 10 airports in the next 12 months,” he said.
He swatted away privacy concerns, saying people did not have the right to privacy in places such as airports. Further, he said places like the Middle East and Northern Ireland and the West in general could actually use it to increase people’s freedoms.
“If you want to just go about your business without being bothered surveillance is a much kinder technology than anything else – the alternative is basically having guards everywhere who are checking your records making sure you are who you say you are,” said Lovell, adding that places like Britain were safer at night largely due to surveillance.
Lovell said people would struggle to find abuses of surveillance systems in Western societies. He said anything could be abused, pointing to the Nazis’ use of technology in death camps.
“It’s up to the government and the people running these things to use the technology sensibly,” he said.
A ‘potent tool’ for investigations
A Customs and Border Protection spokesman said it was interested in all technologies relevant to its role on the border including emerging technologies such as “face-in-the-crowd” and “face-on-the-fly”.
“These types of technology could potentially allow certain border clearance processes to be conducted as the traveler is moving through the airport while continuing to maintain the security of the border,” the spokesman said.
However, Customs said it had not yet bedded down plans to trial or implement face recognition.
Asked whether face recognition technology was as significant for policing as the introduction of DNA testing, the Australian Federal Police said it was one of many tools that could enhance its investigations but performed a different function to DNA.
The AFP noted that while DNA could provide definitive proof of an individual’s identity, facial recognition could merely “assist” this process.
“Facial recognition is a potent tool for investigations and intelligence to detect and investigate criminals,” said the AFP.
“Its capabilities enable improved detection of criminals, linking of criminals to multiple crimes such as cold cases where only a facial image exists associated with the crime, and identification of aliases and false identities.
However, the AFP said face recognition technology could not be relied on in court as it “does not have the same power of identification” as fingerprinting and DNA.
“It does however assist in finding images to guide and inform an investigation to which experts or witnesses can then provide the requisite level of forensic identification,” the AFP said.
The AFP said it had already developed its own facial recognition system to assist with identity crime investigations but refused to comment further due to the “risk of revealing police methodology”.
The NSW Police did not respond to several requests for comment.
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I find it strange that my own political engagement, with all its bad faith and boredom, has declined as the waves of protest have gone on. I trace this to a lack of hope. The article, reproduced below, is symptomatic of why. Essentially, the tl;dr version is this: people are complaining about capitalism- thankfully not anyone committed to any ideals!- and while they won’t win, its nice to talk about the things they’re worried about.
Occupy LSX: reasons for hope
taken from the New Wolf
In recent years the British public has become increasingly ambivalent to the waves of protestors that have swept down London’s famed thoroughfares and across the nations television screens with unerring frequency. Demonstrations are so common now, their character so cliched, and their aims so diffuse and multiple that it is hard to strike a spark of interest in much of the country, irrespective of the determined efforts of the rolling-news channels and (to an admittedly diminishing extent) tabloid headline-writers to convince us otherwise. As a public we have developed a blind-spot to the protestors – confident of what to expect, and largely bored by it. The pattern is indeed predictable: a parade of anti-government sentiment manifested in mostly young people will for the most part march, display banners and chant good-naturedly, while a few of them will don their blackest togs and play at being revolutionaries for the day. The police will move in, a few arrests will be made; everyone else goes home – the integrity of the bastille remains uncompromised.
Nobody minds the protests too much – but there seems little faith in the probability of success, especially if we are to judge by attendance figures, which seem to dwindle ever further, every time. The November student protests attracted just 2000 or 2500 people; for many, perhaps, the heady optimism of the million-strong march of 2003, and the inviolable march to war which saw it crushed, lingers too fresh in the memory. After all, if that unified and populist protest, the largest ever seen on these shores, which seemed to capture public opinion and carry it forward on an unprecedented wave of support, was ultimately to count for nothing, what hope for the disparate, fractured groups out on the streets today?
On October 15th, the Occupy London Stock Exchange protestors, barred from Paternoster Square, relocated to the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral and set up camp. My immediate impression – one shared by many – was that the event seemed to mark the end of a line: the final death-sigh of a confused and fragmented movement – out of ideas and out of energy. It seemed as if the idea-vacuum (so prominent a feature of recent protests) had finally collapsed in upon itself and exposed the laughable reality it hid: the sit-in in the cul-de-sac. In a asense, the protest seemed the respectable version of the recent riots in England: reactionary, accidental nihilism – the apathetic response of a visionless community.
The riots themselves were startlingly modern – the apotheosis of the consumerist ideal, and emblematic of its material and moral bankruptcy. In this they were historically unprecedented;:politics was an excuse after the event: anything but a conscious motive. The anger was real enough, and that anger was justified by its cause, but the riots read as existential scream, rather than political statement: nothing was offered but negation. The protesters who sat down on the steps of St. Paul’s similarly appeared initially to offer little but their discontent or boredom: in spite of the concerted efforts of organisers to put forward a positive message, it was very unclear what, if anything, was the substance of their ambition.
In another way, however, news of the riots and of OccupyLSX came as something of a relief – there was something new, and different about them: at least they didn’t seem as outmoded and as out-of-touch as the voices of the majority of other recent protests, violent or not, which all-too-often have been rooted in a very old-fashioned political worldview, which entirely fails to capture or engage with present reality.
We live in a post-ideological age. Absolutes and universals have not only fallen from fashion but have been proved categorically improper: moralising, totalising meta-narratives wholly inadequate to describe the conditions of the modern world. ‘Communism’ or ‘capitalism’, ‘existentialism’ or ‘humanism’: these are terms redolent of a long-dead world. In this, theory has, as usual, been way ahead of practice – of politics. This broadly deconstructionist project began in earnest in the latter part of the twentieth century, and by the 80s and 90s had unequivocally won the argument. Died-in-the-wool, traditionalist, conservative thinkers – especially those with Marxist leanings – were no longer taken seriously in academic debate. Protests give voice to a different sort of person, however, and those manning the megaphones have all-too-frequenty beenthe sort of outspoken ideologues with whom discourse is impossible – fundamentalist politicians, unconcerned with nuances and detail, unwilling to compromise or even to listen: too busy drowning out dissenters with their own tedious, tired and embarrassingly predictable slogans, amplified to distortion. Manifesto Marxists – Capital what?! ‘Class War’ still features in the lexicon. The ‘rebellion of the working class’ is still supposed to be relevant – as if conditions of labour and arrangements of social hierarchy are identical today with those of our Victorian ancestors – or even with those of Thatcher’s Britain..
So while the irritating presence of posturing would-be anarcho-syndicalists has been, as ever, unavoidable both at the riots and at St Paul’s, it has been a relief not to see and hear Socialist Worker slogans dominating events: however uninspired and lacklustre the protests at St Paul’s initially appeared, by declining to offer a totalising solution they seemed somewhat contemporary.
But this initial response (equal parts relief and disgust) has been tempered, and a good serving of the proverbial pie has been gobbled. The longer the protest has continued, the more coherent its message has become and the more support it has garnered from increasingly wide and diverse sections of the public. Moreover, the would-be condemnation of the protestors, which characterises their concerns as those of a privileged minority who can afford not to camp out for weeks on end in lieu of jobs, simply doesn’t wash: even if the protest were made up largely of such people, their reasons for protest are the antithesis of the privileged positions that would afford them the opportunity to take part: they are the call for the rescinding of social and economic privilege that negates the need for everyone to have the opportunity to earn a reasonable wage. Similarly, the desire of those involved to shower, to sleep a night in a real bed, and even to drink the occasional franchise-coffee in no way invalidate their demands for a fairer, more transparent economy and wider society. Increasingly, it seems fair to argue that the concerns motivating the protesters’ camp are shared by a majority of the British population.
I have, in a sense, been won over. That is not to say I believe that their ambition will be achieved, but only that I think it a good thing that they are there, because by so doing they are forcing debates to be had that call into question the very substance of our democracy. The eviction notices issued by the City of London Corporation is tacit admission of the camp’s relevance: by their very presence the protesters are asking questions whose answers matter to us all, and standing up for rights that we must not be without.
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Mark Pearson, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development: “The UK is one of the best performers in the world. But outcomes are not what you expect because there is a big reform every five years. We calculate that each reform costs two years of improvements in quality. No country reforms its health service as frequently as the UK.”
Andrew Lansley, Secretary of State for Health: “It clearly shows that although the NHS is doing well in some areas, it is still lagging behind other countries in some key areas of patient care. Improving patient results is a top priority for me. We need to allow the NHS to focus on what really matters to patients; things like survival rates, recovery rates and whether people can live independently and with dignity”.
Picture one: reform is detrimental.
Picture two, derived from picture one: this shows reform is necessary.
Lansley remains the leader neo-Situationist agitant at government’s heart, forcing the dialectic to stand on its head, then its feet, then its head, so often and so quickly that not even the dialectic knows which way up it is.
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Why look at his reassuring smile and strong, bold use of eyebrows (note also the dramatic ‘one eye slightly closed’ technique, conjuring up an air of confidence not seen since the demise of Futurism). Observe how we sits, situated between the great vastness of a blue sky, pregnant with the promise of untrammelled progress incited by an imaginative power bounded only by the mortals with which he must attempt to ‘communicate’ with, and the radiant brilliance of the Sun, that source of all life and symbol of potency. It is as if Lansley himself were an Apollonian Hero of reason entwined with an imagination that we fleshboxes, in that pitiable everyday beneath him, must come to rely upon and recognise as safely and smoothly guiding us, as if we were mere wisps of cloud on his gentle breeze.
All of this delivered by a man with the bravery, the resolution- nay the Authenticity!- to gently extol to us from underneath a sensible, business oriented grey side parting. No! This isn’t characteristic of a lack of flair! Nor of the flip floppery of others! His hair is parted. It is parted with certainty. Not a single maverick strand of hair could sully the direction and purpose of his parting. Let not the fact of its being parted to the left fool you, for he comes robed in a suit and tie that conjures in us a nostalgia of a particular British quality and returns a sense of things lost: this daring grey and pink combination is Man at C&A; it is Marks and Spencer (as opposed to all this M&S madness); it is a cup of hot Bovril taken from a thermos in a motorway layby, refusing the chicanery of service stations, while en route to a national strategy select committee.
Lansley is no fly-by night spouter of ruinous ideologies or empty jargoneering. His website lays out his unique position on health as bringing forth ‘the prospect of real and positive change for our NHS’. No illusory change here! No machinations of change! And let it be recorded that this change isn’t going to be detrimental to the NHS. We have his promise!
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Tags: Andrew Lansley, authenticity, blue sky thinking, health, health minister, hero, inspiration, leader, politician, privatising the NHS, secretary of state
Unison has failed to understand Andrew Lansley’s overseeing of the Coalition plans to ‘redesignate’ the NHS. As such, the silly sods are going to be joining a lot of other foolhardy unions in striking on the 30th of November. I’ll be in attendance at my local picket line reading extracts from the Government’s denial that 56,000 clinical NHS jobs are about to be cut. Once that dispute is resolved we can all sit down to a nice pint of Real Ale.
They done got trolled
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Tags: Andrew Lansley, health, industrial action, NHS, strike, unions, Unison
The Guardian is reporting that the health minister is pioneering a new form of politically inflected avant-garde comedy that seeks to subvert the Government and the NHS management’s credibility. A Situationist saboteur at the heart of government, enacting a detournement of the mediatic management of reality. Look out for Andrew’s own opinion unobtrusively expressed in the comments section.
Hospital patients face non-stop Andrew Lansley on their televisions
Lansley, whose video message is played on a continuous loop on NHS hospital bedside TV screens. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA
Andrew Lansley isn’t most people’s idea of bedside entertainment, so pity the patients in NHS hospitals across the country who are having to watch the health secretary addressing them every three or four minutes on monitors above their beds.
The Conservative cabinet minister’s face appears on bedside entertainment systems on a continuous loop saying that their care “really matters to me” and asking them to thank NHS staff.
In some wards with multiple beds, the screens have the effect of a television showroom, reported the Independent.
It was reported that the only way to turn the health secretary’s recorded message off, patients first had to register under a system which sees patients charged more than £5 a day to access TV, email and phone services – though those who just want to use the radio do not have to pay when they do so.
The health secretary accepted an invitation from the BBC Radio 4 Today programme in which he defended the “useful message” being conveyed to patients and confirmed that the system in place meant that patients first had to register before they could switch him off and listen to something more interesting instead.
But it appeared that Lansley was ill-versed in the system used in hospitals up and down the country and it was left to Hospedia, the company that provides the bedside screens, to point out that all patients had to do is press the off button on the TV.
A spokesperson for Hospedia said: “The video is included as part of a series of informational items, however once a patient registers with the system for free, the video is no longer displayed.
“Alternatively, if a patient does not wish to see the information videos and does not wish to register, the screen can be switched off as desired, using the off button on the front of the bedside unit.”
Earlier, the health secretary had explained: “They can turn me off. They can also get the radio for free, and not see me. We’ve inherited this system from the past. To use the Hospedia system, people have to register, and obviously it’s a pay as you go, so they do have to register, but as I say, if people want to use the radio, they can do so.”
The Department of Health later clarified that the off button was also an option.
Lansley’s message to patients replaces one made by his Labour predecessor, Andy Burnham. He says: “Hello, I’m Andrew Lansley, the health secretary. I just want to take a few moments to say that your care while you’re here in hospital really matters to me. I hope it’s as good quality care as we can possibly make it and I do hope you’ll join me in thanking all the staff who are looking after you while you’re here.”
He told Today: “When people go into hospital, I hope one of the first things they realise is we want them to have as comfortable and as high quality a stay as possible. I want them to help join me in thanking the NHS staff and I particularly wanted to say if they had any feedback that would be really helpful, but I’d like to say, you’re quite right.”
He joked: “It can be even worse than you describe: there was someone in my constituency who said his baby’s first experience of life was staring up at me on the monitor, which he found rather unnerving.”
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Tags: affectivity, Andrew Landley, comedy, health, healthcare, Hospedia, hospital, information, looping, media, NHS, pay as you go, reality management, simulation, telepresence
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Tags: concrete island, fanboy, JG Ballard
(Re-posted from another blog o’mine, slightly edited)
I see through it all; this is the maxim of our time. It is more than irony, this cynicism, because it takes the conditions of its existence and itself as entirely necessary. How can there be truth, or Truth, if I can see through it.
The jouissance of RealityTV is no longer the rendering inauthentic of reality but the subject’s response to this; “this is so obviously scripted!”; “shooting from that angle the other camera should have been visible! But it wasn’t! So they obviously shot that scene more than once!” The jouissance is that of knowing whilst believing nothing.
Cartesian doubt is replaced by a perverse form of solipsist certainty.
Against this I want to reaffirm a thousand reductionists. It is only out of fear that I can’t.
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Tags: cynicism, solipsism, transparency, truth