Smile, the Government Is Watching: Next Generation Identification
by John W. Whitehead
“You had to live – did live, from habit that became instinct – in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement was scrutinized.” ~ George Orwell, 1984
Brace yourselves for the next wave in the surveillance state’s steady incursions into our lives. It’s coming at us with a lethal one-two punch.
To start with, there’s the government’s integration of facial recognition software and other biometric markers into its identification data programs. The FBI’s Next Generation Identification (NGI) system is a $1 billion boondoggle that is aimed at dramatically expanding the government’s current ID database from a fingerprint system to a facial recognition system. NGI will use a variety of biometric data, cross-referenced against the nation’s growing network of surveillance cameras to not only track your every move but create a permanent “recognition” file on you within the government’s massive databases.
By the time it’s fully operational in 2014, NGI will serve as a vast data storehouse of “iris scans, photos searchable with face recognition technology, palm prints, and measures of gait and voice recordings alongside records of fingerprints, scars, and tattoos.” One component of NGI, the Universal Face Workstation, already contains some 13 million facial images, gleaned from “criminal mug shot photos” taken during the booking process. However, with major search engines having “accumulated face image databases that in their size dwarf the earth’s population,” it’s only a matter of time before the government taps into the trove of images stored on social media and photo sharing websites such as Facebook.
Also aiding and abetting police in their efforts to track our every movement in real time is Trapwire, which allows for quick analysis of live feeds from CCTV surveillance cameras. Some of Trapwire’s confirmed users are the DC police, and police and casinos in Las Vegas. Police in New York, Los Angeles, Canada, and London are also thought to be using Trapwire.
Using Trapwire in conjunction with NGI, police and other government agents will be able to pinpoint anyone by checking the personal characteristics stored in the database against images on social media websites, feeds from the thousands of CCTV surveillance cameras installed throughout American cities (there are 3,700 CCTV cameras tracking the public in the New York subway system alone), as well as data being beamed down from the more than 30,000 surveillance drones taking to the skies within the next eight years. Given that the drones’ powerful facial recognition cameras will be capable of capturing minute details, including every mundane action performed by every person in an entire city simultaneously, soon there really will be nowhere to run and nowhere to hide, short of living in a cave, far removed from technology.