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TUCoPS :: Spies! :: biometry.txt

Video Surveillance, Biometrics, Voiceprinting - terrifying information on how Big Brother will track your every move wtih ease


Extracted from New Dawn No.36 (May-June, 1996)
(c) Copyright 1996 by Simon Davies

Simon Davies assesses the new generation of Big Brother technology,
and predicts that the path for the next decade will be unpleasant.

The surveillance industry is enjoying a boom period at the moment. The
range of new technologies, and their (almost) limitless range of
functions, is creating a buoyant economy in the snoop market.

    Rapid advances in video and audio intercept equipment,
identification technologies and intelligence gathering systems have
created an unprecedented sweep of opportunities for police and
security agencies. More important still is the fact that these new
technologies are within the reach of almost anybody. Surveillance has
become a fixed component of the burgeoning information economy.
    The next generation of technology will exploit a growing
fusion between people and technology. An intimacy without parallel
will mean that areas of life traditionally considered private, will be
comprehensively revealed. Lubricated by the mantra "Nothing to Hide;
Nothing to Fear", surveillance technology will enjoy a fast track into
all areas of our lives.
    And central to the construction of surveillance is the rapid
evolution of an intimacy between humans and technology - a fusion that
softens the image of computers and which makes surveillance appear to
be a natural and beneficial component.
    There are five key technologies that are making important
inroads throughout the world.

Video Surveillance

    The government of Massachusetts in the U.S. has developed a
novel plan to fight crime and fraud. In late 1995 it launched a
state-wide computer database containing the digitized photographs of
all 4.2 million drivers. Within about one second, the state will be
able to match any photographed face against the database images. Who
is that bank robber? The system knows. And who are those political
    The system can look past hairstyles and spectacles into the
essential light and shade created by the facial structure. The new
technology has been motivated by a crackdown on fraud through false
ID, and its potential is limitless. Any photograph can be scanned,
digitized, and matched against the state database. It's a
sophisticated version of the technology which automatically scans
number plates using roadside video cameras.
    Known as Computerized Facial Recognition (CFR) or Facial
Mapping, these systems can convert any face into a sequence of
numbers. Within a decade, if the FBI has its way, such systems could
be operating across the U.S. By then, new technical standards will
allow a face to be matched simultaneously against digitized facial
records stored in numerous law enforcement, drivers license and
commercial computers. The revolution in CFR will inevitably produce a
national face recognition system that can be accessed by a range of
authorities. The Atlanta Olympic Games will employ CFR at all
entrances. The Sydney games will also use this technology.
    The CFR system becomes supremely powerful if it can be linked
to a network of Closed Circuit Video Cameras (CCTVs) stationed in
public places. If this convergence of technology sounds far fetched,
the current experience of Britain should provide a warning. There,
CCTV camera technology has reached saturation levels. Already there
are upwards of 300,000 cameras installed nationwide, and at least
three hundred towns and counties across the UK are planing to
introduce integrated centrally controlled systems. These modern camera
systems involve sophisticated. technology, which includes night
vision, computer assisted operation, automated self capability,
independent power and communications supply, and automatic motion
detection facilities. And the clarity of these pictures is brilliant.
The cameras have full remote controlled pan, tilt and zoom, are able
to read a cigarette packet at a hundred yards, and can even work in
pitch blackness, bringing all images up to daylight level. The
companies producing this technology are now selling their product to
state governments and private companies in the U.S. and Australia.
Given the British experience, there is a good chance that the
technology will have a snowball effect and could reach into every
facet of private and public space.


    Even if the specters of illegal workers, rampant crime or
wholesale tax evasion are not convincing enough bogeys to motivate the
population at large to adopt ID cards linked to a vast database (and
Australians know all about this), there are more tempting technologies
that achieve the same result. If you can't put human identity onto a
card, why not put the human into the machine?
    Governments and corporations across the world are doing just
this. The process is known as Biometry - the process of collecting,
processing and storing details of a persons physical characteristics.
The most popular forms of biometric ID are retina scans, hand
geometry, thumb scans, finger prints, voice recognition, and digitized
(electronically stored) photographs. Spain is planning a national
fingerprint system for unemployment benefit entitlement. Russia has
announced plans for a national electronic fingerprint system for
banks. Jamaicans will shortly need to scan their thumbs into a
database before qualifying to vote at elections. Blue Cross and Blue
Shield in the U.S. have plans to introduce nationwide fingerprinting
for hospital patients. This may be extended into more general medical
    Conventional forms of identification have always been subject
to fraud and manipulation. Card systems are the most vulnerable. Fake
blanks of even the highest integrity cards are generally available in
Singapore or Thailand within weeks of issue.
    Biometric technology offers the prospect of highly accurate
identification, but involves some difficult technical and public
relations problems. All the same, hand geometry (involving a scan of
the shape and contours of the hand) is already employed in over 4,000
locations including airports, daycare centres, nuclear research
establishments, banks, computer facilities, hospitals, sperm banks,
high security government buildings and retail shops.
    An automated immigration system developed by the Immigration
and Naturalization Service (INS) uses hand geometry. In this project,
frequent travelers have their hand geometry stored in a smart computer
chip card. The traveler places a hand onto a scanner, and places the
card into a slot. More than 70,000 people have enrolled in the trial.
If the INSPASS project is successful, the technology may ultimately
make conventional ID cards and passports redundant. And, as a
trade-off for faster immigration processing, passengers will have to
accept a system which has the potential to generate a vast amount of
international traffic in their personal data. The government hopes
that by 2010, all travellers to and from the United States will need
to be biometrically registered. Information about passengers will be
shared on the basis of the biometry.
 The Snooperhighway
    Each day, around fifty officials from Britain's top spy
agency, GCHQ, file into the headquarters of the National Security
Agency at Fort Meade, Maryland. These people, under the cover of the
top secret UKUSA intelligence agreement, are employed to tap millions
of U.S. phone calls without any warrant or authorization. Two liaison
officials from Britain coordinate this activity. The same practice is
undertaken in Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
    This activity has a long history. Immediately following the
Second World War, in 1947, the governments of the United States, the
United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand signed a National
Security pact known as the Quadripartite, or United Kingdom - United
States (UKUSA) agreement. Its intention was to seal an Intelligence
bond in which a common National Security objective was created. It is
in all probability the most secretive document in the world,
classified in the U.S. as Top Secret - SEI, the highest classification
of secrecy.
    The UKUSA Agreement standardized terminology, code words,
intercept handling procedures, arrangements for cooperation, sharing
of information, and access to facilities. One important component of
the agreement was the exchange of data and personnel. The link means
that operatives from one agency could use the facilities of another
agency to spy on local phone conversations without either nation
having to formally approve or disclose the interception.
    Anyone with concerns about the surveillance activities of law
enforcement and national security agencies has ample justification to
fear the Superhighway. The technology is no less than a one-stop-shop
for snooping. The three-letter agencies are particularly delighted
with the Superhighway. It will contain vast amounts of sensitive
information. And because of the ordered convergence - the bringing
together - of this information, it will be easy for the agencies to
extract masses of transactional data about our minute-to-minute
activities. Much of its data can be accessed without the requirement
of a warrant.

 Voice Printing

    Three years ago a small number of software companies working
on computer voice recognition (the quest to have computers recognize
instructions from a human voice) independently succeeded in developing
software packages that gave computers the ability to recognize human
speech with 95 per cent accuracy.
    Then last year another processing breakthrough brought the
technology up to a breathtaking level of sophistication. The Power
Secretary and Dragon Dictate systems use a Pentium chip to achieve a
processing power that allows the computer to understand up to 100
words a minute of speech with almost perfect accuracy. The words are
converted instantly to text on the screen, or they can be directed to
instruct the computer to achieve a series of complex operations. At no
time is the keyboard ever used.
    At first sight this technology seems benign, but its impact on
employment cannot be overstated. As computers perform more complex
tasks and as information systems become integrated, the human
interface will become redundant. Public servants, bank and insurance
staff, inquiry officers, telephone operators, booking agents, middle
management and all word processing staff face retrenchment. The new
package, after all, will cost less than a thousand dollars.
    Beyond this, the new voice recognition technology is likely to
be used as a form of mass personal ID. Companies across the world are
in a race to create a smart card that can hold the "template" of a
voice. The intention is to give all networked computers the ability to
understand oral instructions. People will be "offered" a card so they
no longer need messy PIN numbers. The card will help the computer to
perfectly understand the relevant voice. In the process, the human
becomes perfectly identified.

 The Ultimate Fusion

    It is worth spending a few moments considering the extent to
which the human/machine fusion has evolved. Consider, for example, the
implanting of microchips into live human brains.
    In a procedure until recently confined to the fantasies of
science fiction, microchips are now being routinely placed into brain
stems and cortexes to relieve a variety of medical conditions.
Micro-engineered probes many times thinner than a human hair are
buried deep inside the brain, fed by platinum wires lacing underneath
the skull. More than fifteen thousand people so far have had their
brains wired, and this population of cyborgs will increase
exponentially. The National Institute of Health leads this field.
    Medical science has become blas  about placing objects into
patients. Plastic hips, polythene penises, silicone breasts and bionic
ears hardly raise an eyebrow. Implant technology, however, is
constantly evolving. Some second generation implants can now think.
They can interface with the brain, provide complex instructions to
mechanical parts, and read brain activity. The use of computer
microchips also allows these implants to provide a mass of unique
information about the host human.
    A new generation of intelligent materials and chemicals can
fool the brain into believing they are part of the human body, and
thus become part of it. Scientists at ICL, IBM and Rank Xerox have
independently developed organic based engineered computers, allowing
them to construct machines out of living material, using protein
strands as wires, and molecular movement as memory. As computers can
be "grown" on living tissue, the inter-dependency becomes limitless.
    Miniaturization will accelerate the development of Homo
Cyborg. In the absence of any limitation of size, the fusion of human
and machine will be inevitable. In our lifetime, microscopic robots
will pound an arterial beat, interacting with a variety of intelligent
implants located around the body, and communicating with external
technology. The application at present is for people suffering chronic
medical conditions. In the future, such technology will be as common
as disease inoculation. When linked with automated DNA analysis, our
lives will be an open book to insurers, employers and government
    Most people under the age of thirty have developed a symbiotic
relationship with technology at a far more intimate level than at any
time in history. And most people under 30 appear to believe that
knowledge, well-being, health and wealth are dependent on new
technology. Technology doubtless offers some benefits, but as
dependence and intimacy with technology increases, autonomy, privacy
and sovereignty will be imperiled.

Simon Davies is the Director General of the Washington, DC-based
watchdog group Privacy International. Privacy International's WWW site
is at

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