blog It’s getting harder and harder to pretend that South Australia’s police force isn’t hell-bent on turning the state into the sort of universal surveillance nightmare that George Orwell envisioned in his seminal novel 1984. Over recent months, SA Police has outlined plans to use drones to keep tabs on criminals, deploy automated fingerprint recognition systems to police officers’ smartphones, and now they’ve outlined plans for a somewhat universal CCTV/facial recognition system throughout the state. We can’t find the Labor Government’s official media release, but the ABC has some info on the scheme. The media outlet writes (we recommend you click here for the full article):
“Police will make greater use of facial recognition technology for tackling crime, if Labor is re-elected … Attorney-General John Rau said facial recognition technology was used successfully in the investigation of last year’s Boston marathon bombings.”
The Advertiser has more (again, click here for the full article):
“The facial recognition software would tap into footage captured by the network of government, council and private CCTV cameras around the state. It would, in real time, match faces with photos loaded into the system by police. An alarm is triggered when a known criminal is identified.”
I’m conscious that law and order is a big issue in South Australia. But doesn’t this sort of system strike anyone as massive overkill, with the potential for huge overreach and abuse? You can imagine the potential if the whole statewide police force has access to it. Police officer suspects their spouse of cheating? Just enter their name into the system and watch for any movements on the local CCTV cameras. Politician needs dirt on their opposition (perhaps someone has a slightly unusual sex life)? Just ask a friendly cop to enter some new facial data into the system and track the many CCTV cameras found in red light districts. Never mind its dubious application to the so-called category of “missing people”, some of whom may not actually want to be found.
It’s true that privacy rights are being rapidly eroded in Australian society through the over-zealous application of technology. And it may be true that the end of privacy is near, for those same reasons. But I don’t quite want privacy to die quite so quickly.
These days, I can’t earn money without the Australian Taxation Office automatically tracking things through my bank account. I can’t browse web sites or send emails without some concern that law enforcement authorities have access to my Internet records. And of course anytime I buy anything from anyone, I assume the police can track that too. I’d just like to be able to pop down to the shops quickly now and then for a packet of chips without some police system automatically scanning my face for matches with some massive crime database. Is that too much to ask?