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The Rise of Facial Recognition Should Scare Us All

It seems the sleeping masses are finally waking to the privacy dangers posed by the rise of facial recognition technology.

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It seems the sleeping masses are finally waking to the privacy dangers posed by the rise of facial recognition technology.

(TMU) — In the last ten years, our world has been completely transformed thanks to the exponential growth of digital technology. Technological advances with computer processors and the internet have quickly advanced our world into one that resembles some of the most well known sci-fi films and novels. Not a single day passes without a report on an emerging technology or new feature in an already existing product. The last ten years alone have seen rapid growth in information technology, encryption, the medical industry and 3D printing technology, just to name a few.

Unfortunately, as technology is a tool, there are equally frightening developments taking place in the first two decades of the 21st century. Specifically, the ability for governments and private actors to monitor and spy on the activity of the average person has nearly become accepted as the norm. In fact, it has become commonplace to hear Americans respond to warnings of Orwellian futures with the timeless trope, “If you’re not doing anything wrong, there’s nothing to hide!” This is what makes it all the more surprising to see a surplus of recent reports examining the dangers and implications of a world where facial recognition technology is commonplace.

Here’s a small sample of the current headlines related to facial recognition:

Even the Washington Post published a warning titled “Don’t smile for surveillance: Why airport face scans are a privacy trap.”

Questions surrounding the emerging technology have reached enough of a tipping point that just this week, House Democrats questioned the Department of Homeland Security over the use of facial recognition tech on U.S. citizens. The Hill reported that more than 20 House Democrats sent a letter on Friday to the DHS over the Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) use of facial recognition technology at U.S. airports. The Border Patrol claims that they are rolling out the facial recognition program at a number of airports under a congressional mandate and with an executive order from President Donald Trump. Lawmakers say the program was supposed to focus on foreign passengers, not Americans.

The group of lawmakers wrote:

We write to express concerns about reports that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is using facial recognition technology to scan American citizens under the Biometric Exit Program.”

The letter to DHS comes shortly after a representative with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) the House Oversight and Reform Committee said that the FBI has access to hundreds of millions of photos that are used for facial recognition searches. Gretta Goodwin, a representative with the GAO, said the FBI uses expansive databases of photos—including from driver’s licenses, passports and mugshots—to search for potential criminals. Goodwin noted that the FBI has a database of 36 million mugshots and access to more than 600 million photos, including access to 21 state driver’s license databases.

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio reminded Ms. Goodwin that the FBI has access to more photos than there are people in the country. “There are only 330 million people in the country,” Jordan stated.

The TSA was also questioned about their use of facial recognition at airports. Austin Gould, the TSA’s assistant administrator on Requirements and Capabilities Analysis, said the facial recognition program has been helpful for travelers. However, critics say the potential benefits of saved time and reducing passenger volume should not override the greater risk to privacy. The TSA plans to have facial recognition tech at the top 20 airports for international travelers by 2021 and at all airports by 2023. The TSA has also previously expressed their desire to scan the face of every single American who enters the airport.

The push back against facial recognition—and biometric technology in general—has moved beyond words in some areas. Most recently, San Francisco became the first city to ban government use of facial recognition. Due to the success in San Francisco, California lawmakers are considering AB 1215, a bill that would extend the ban across the entire state. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) spoke in favor of the bill, stating that the technology has been shown to have disproportionately high error rates for women, the elderly, and people of color. EFF also warned about the dangers of combining face recognition technology with police body cameras.

The editorial board of the Guardian also recently spoke out about the privacy threats, calling the technology “especially inaccurate and prone to bias.” The editorial board also noted that a recent test of Amazon’s facial recognition software by the American Civil Liberties Union found that it falsely identified 28 members of Congress as known criminal. Although the technology is currently dangerous due to its inaccuracy, the Guardian warns:

It may be too late to stop the collection of this data. But the law must ensure that it is not stored and refined in ways that will harm the innocent and, as Liberty warns, slowly poison our public life.”

It’s clear that the debate on the benefits and threats of facial recognition technology is not going anywhere anytime soon. It’s up to us as individuals to educate ourselves and inform our peers about the threats to privacy and freedom that are becoming increasingly more apparent everyday.

By Derrick Broze | Creative Commons | TheMindUnleashed.com

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Awesome New Infrared Goggles Could Help Blind People ‘See’ Surroundings

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People who are blind or deal with low vision face a unique number of challenges in their daily lives, ranging from accessing published material to holding a job or living on one’s own.

However, emerging infrared technology under research could help the blind and visually impaired navigate the world around them using a pair of innovative goggles.

In new research recently published and yet to be peer-reviewed, Manuel Zahn and Armaghan Ahmad Khan at Germany’s Technical University of Munich explored how their 3D camera and haptic feedback armband can assist people with low vision.

“Even in the present era, visually impaired people face a constant challenge of navigation,” the pair wrote. “The most common tool available to them is the cane. Although the cane allows good detection of objects in the user’s immediate vicinity, it lacks the ability to detect obstacles further away.”

The two students’ design deploys two infrared cameras placed in a 3D-printed goggles prototype to get a stereoscopic view that is transformed by a small computer into a map of the user’s surroundings. The infrared gear also works in the dark. The armband then uses 25 actuators arranged in a grid that vibrates when users come close to objects while also assisting them in their orientation. As users walk near obstacles, the vibration intensity of the actuators increases.

In tests, subjects enjoyed roughly 98 percent accuracy while getting through obstacle pathways, with all five participants completing the course in their first run. After two additional runs, the volunteers were able to navigate the obstacles more rapidly.

Zahn and Khan frequently cited Microsoft’s Kinect motion detection system for the Xbox in their study, but the pair are confident that their own setup will be far smaller, cheaper and less conspicuous than the gaming device.

The new headset could offer an interesting opportunity for blind and partially sighted people to clear the myriad obstacles they face when performing regular tasks or navigating the world around them.

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Toddler Goes On $2000 Furniture-Shopping Spree On Mom’s Phone

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A New Jersey mom learned that keeping your browser open may not be the best idea as children, and even infants, become increasingly tech savvy.

Madhu Kumar was browsing Walmart’s furniture selection on their website and had added some items to her shopping cart but never checked out. She was shocked and confused when she started to receive a steady stream of packages from the big-box retailer.

Madhu immediately turned to her husband and two older children to find out who ordered the packages.

“I need one or two, why would we need four?” Madhu asked.

As it turned out, her toddler Ayaansh Kumar – who, at 22 months old, was barely learning to count – had gone on a $2,000 shopping spree while playing on his mother’s phone.

“It is really hard to believe that he has done this, but that’s what happened,” Ayaansh’s dad, Pramod Kumar, told NBC New York.

Among the packages were some that could barely be squeezed through the family’s front door at their home in Monmouth Junction.

Purchases included accent chairs, flower stands and a range of other household items that arrived throughout the week.

“He’s so little, he’s so cute, we were laughing that he ordered all this stuff,” his mom remarked.

From birth, young Ayaansh had observantly watched his family members engage in a range of activities from home – including shopping, attending classes, and going to school. And as it the case for many kids of his generation, he knows the basics of operating a smartphone.

The parents are still waiting for all of the boxes to arrive so that they can return them to their local Walmart. The retailer has already told the Kumars that they are eligible for a refund, but the parents plan to save at least a few items to remind them of their son’s first e-commerce adventure.

“Moving forward, we will put tough passcodes or face recognition so when he picks up the phone he finds it in locked condition,” his father said.

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