RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment

Wolf writes: "According to Homeland Security Newswire, billions of dollars are being invested in the development and manufacture of various biometric technologies capable of detecting and identifying anyone, anywhere in the world..."

Portrait, author and activist Naomi Wolf, 10/19/11. (photo: Guardian UK)
Portrait, author and activist Naomi Wolf, 10/19/11. (photo: Guardian UK)

The New Totalitarianism of Surveillance Technology

By Naomi Wolf, Guardian UK

16 August 12


If you think that 24/7 tracking of citizens by biometric recognition systems is paranoid fantasy, just read the industry newsletters.

software engineer in my Facebook community wrote recently about his outrage that when he visited Disneyland, and went on a ride, the theme park offered him the photo of himself and his girlfriend to buy - with his credit card information already linked to it. He noted that he had never entered his name or information into anything at the theme park, or indicated that he wanted a photo, or alerted the humans at the ride to who he and his girlfriend were - so, he said, based on his professional experience, the system had to be using facial recognition technology. He had never signed an agreement allowing them to do so, and he declared that this use was illegal. He also claimed that Disney had recently shared data from facial-recognition technology with the United States military.

Yes, I know: it sounds like a paranoid rant.

Except that it turned out to be true. News21, supported by the Carnegie and Knight foundations, reports that Disney sites are indeed controlled by face-recognition technology, that the military is interested in the technology, and that the face-recognition contractor, Identix, has contracts with the US government - for technology that identifies individuals in a crowd.

Fast forward: after the Occupy crackdowns, I noted that odd-looking CCTVs had started to appear, attached to lampposts, in public venues in Manhattan where the small but unbowed remnants of Occupy congregated: there was one in Union Square, right in front of their encampment. I reported here on my experience of witnessing a white van marked "Indiana Energy" that was lifting workers up to the lampposts all around Union Square, and installing a type of camera. When I asked the workers what was happening - and why an Indiana company was dealing with New York City civic infrastructure, which would certainly raise questions - I was told: "I'm a contractor. Talk to ConEd."

I then noticed, some months later, that these bizarre camera/lights had been installed not only all around Union Square but also around Washington Square Park. I posted a photo I took of them, and asked: "What is this?" Commentators who had lived in China said that they were the same camera/streetlight combinations that are mounted around public places in China. These are enabled for facial recognition technology, which allows police to watch video that is tagged to individuals, in real time. When too many people congregate, they can be dispersed and intimidated simply by the risk of being identified - before dissent can coalesce. (Another of my Facebook commentators said that such lamppost cameras had been installed in Michigan, and that they barked "Obey", at pedestrians. This, too, sounded highly implausible - until this week in Richmond, British Columbia, near the Vancouver airport, when I was startled as the lamppost in the intersection started talking to me - in this case, instructing me on how to cross (as though I were blind or partially sighted).

Finally, last week, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg joined NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly to unveil a major new police surveillance infrastructure, developed by Microsoft. The Domain Awareness System links existing police databases with live video feeds, including cameras using vehicle license plate recognition software. No mention was made of whether the system plans to use - or already uses - facial recognition software. But, at present, there is no law to prevent US government and law enforcement agencies from building facial recognition databases.

And we know from industry newsletters that the US military, law enforcement, and the department of homeland security are betting heavily on facial recognition technology. As PC World notes, Facebook itself is a market leader in the technology - but military and security agencies are close behind.

According to Homeland Security Newswire, billions of dollars are being invested in the development and manufacture of various biometric technologies capable of detecting and identifying anyone, anywhere in the world - via iris-scanning systems, already in use; foot-scanning technology (really); voice pattern ID software, and so on.

What is very obvious is that this technology will not be applied merely to people under arrest, or to people under surveillance in accordance with the fourth amendment (suspects in possible terrorist plots or other potential crimes, after law enforcement agents have already obtained a warrant from a magistrate). No, the "targets" here are me and you: everyone, all of the time. In the name of "national security", the capacity is being built to identify, track and document any citizen constantly and continuously.

The revealing boosterism of a trade magazine like Homeland Security Newswire envisions endless profits for the surveillance industry, in a society where your TV is spying on you, a billboard you drive by recognizes you, Minority Report style, and the FBI knows where to find your tattoo - before you have committed any crime: "FBI on Track to Book Faces, Scars, Tattoos", it notes; "Billboards, TVs Detect your Faces; Advertisers Salivate", it gloats; "Biometric Companies See Government as the Driver of Future Market Growth", it announces. Indeed, the article admits without a blush that all the growth is expected to be in government consumption, with "no real expectation" of private-sector growth at all. So much for smaller government!

To acclimate their populations to this brave new world of invasive surveillance technologies, UK Prime Minister David Cameron and and his Canadian counterpart, Stephen Harper, both recently introduced "snoop" bills. Meanwhile, in the US - "the land of the free" - the onward march of the surveillers continues apace, without check or consultation. your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

-82 # Robt Eagle 2012-08-16 12:59
All your rights and privileges will be taken away under Emperor Obama if he is re-elected to serve another 4 years in the White House. Thank you Naiomi for pointing this out so eloquently!
+99 # colvictoria 2012-08-16 15:41
@RobtEagle and under Mitt RobME it will be ten times worse.Either way we get a totalitarian regime because both parties are aligned with the billionaires who pull their puppet strings and fund their campaigns.
-7 # Norma 2012-08-17 05:53
We have another choice! Even if Ron Paul doesn't make it on the ballot there will be another candidate! Gary Johnson is running as a Libertarian...V OTE 3rd party!
+4 # midwestgirl 2012-08-19 13:26
Um, the Libertarians are the ones who birthed the selfish meme the Tea Party embraces. They are no answer.
+37 # letpeacereign 2012-08-16 18:59
You are right. But, Romney will also be controlled by the same corportist, military , fascists that control our banks, sell weapons world-wide, peddle American exceptionalism. At the same time they strip you of your money and your rights.
+3 # midwestgirl 2012-08-19 13:25
All your rights and privileges will also be taken away if Romney is elected to the White House. Remember, it was the Bushies who started all this. Doesn't excuse Obama for taking the ball and running with it but how about you stop pretending it was anything but a right wing driven bipartisan sell out of the American people.
+85 # Capn Canard 2012-08-16 13:15
Is there really any surprise here at all, seriously? This is what fascism feels like, it starts out in that harmless big brother fashion and next thing you know you are under their thumb.
+55 # orwell, by george 2012-08-16 13:42
the president is the obedient servant of money.
that message of occupy keeps slipping from the minds of party loyalists.
ain't no difference. ask an afghan, ask a betrayed u.s. soldier.
+54 # tswhiskers 2012-08-16 14:06
It seems that Orwell was a bit behind time in his novel 1984 by 28 years. I must admit that when I've seen this technology used to identify suspects and criminals on the CSI shows I've been amazed and pleased that it seemed to speed up police investigations without thinking overmuch about the social and political implications of it. We Americans have for a long time now had to balance personal freedom against the social good of protecting the public from physical harm and mayhem. Now we may be on the verge of having numerous discussions in the media about this problem. I hope so. I also suspect that most people will decide in favor of a more secure existence at the expense of loss of freedom. I also am concerned that the Occupy movement, if it reawakens, will by more dangerous for participating individuals and more easily controlled. This should not be allowed but I think that until the country enters a more liberal period socially and politically than we enjoy at the moment, we stand to lose, indeed have already lost, many of our Constitutional freedoms, and this will continue. Given our conservative Supreme Court, our self-censoring media, 2 conservative political parties and the fear of God knows what that Republicans have successfully sold to the American public, this is just another sign of our growing authoritarian and undemocratic American state.
+47 # JTHinSD 2012-08-16 15:44
You are correct in that Orwell mistimed his novel (quickly becoming a prophetic work of non-fiction),

However, "...protecting the public from physical harm and mayhem."???? Really? How is that being accomplished? In fact, the "authorities" have ZERO obligation to protect you from anything (see Castle Rock vs Gonzales, No. 04-2782005). Systems such as Ms Wolf describes are solely for the goal of protecting the State...not you or me!

Self-protection is YOUR Right and your responsibility, and yet the capability to exercise that responsibility is being constantly eroded by the State so that we can be turned into Subjects rather than Citizens. Said erosion is clearly promoted by most commentators on this site, near as I can tell.

Your inference that Republicans are somehow to blame for these developments is naive at best...ignorant at worst. The fault lies in us, the (former) Citizenry for allowing this to happen by promoting Corporate Statism in BOTH major parties, which have been equally hijacked by special interests, of one sort or another, and do NOT have the interests of Citizens at heart.

Blind hatred of Republicans and/or blind allegiance to Dems makes us equally culpable for the disintegration of the concept known as America. Careful what you ask for folks.
+7 # tswhiskers 2012-08-17 11:00
I disagree with some of what you say. I do believe the purpose of police forces is to protect people from harm and to bring criminals to justice as a part of that protection. Self-protection is my right as the NRA sees it but as the shooter of Trayvon Martin may have learned by now, self-protection can be seen as an iffy thing by law enforcement. Yes, I do blame the Reps. for their anti-democratic agenda. I also blame fearful mayors and police forces for their handling of Occupy and I blame a lazy, ignorant public for allowing so many Rep. policies to go unchecked. I blame Dems for having been gutless cowards during the Bush II Admin. I am a Dem simply because we have a 2 party form of govt. and they are the lesser of 2 rather awful alternatives. I believe that Reps. appeal to an authoritarian streak that exists in a lot of the public. These are people who feel the need for a leader, someone who will tell them what to think and do. I don't think I am blind. But I see what Reps are doing to us; everything from buying faulty voting machines in FL to limiting voters' rights wherever possible. These things require a lot of coordination from the top, down in the Rep. Party. The Dems, while individually guilty of corruption, are not as yet capable of this kind of organization. I ask for honest, democratic govt. and short of a huge revolution I see the Dems. as our only hope at this moment.
-5 # Barbara K 2012-08-16 15:24
How I long for the good old days, before 9/11 happened. It is such a shame that in order to keep us safe that we have all this to contend with. They can watch me all they want, they would probably fall asleep. lol. Wish we could go back in time.
+11 # fliteshare 2012-08-17 01:17
Do your duty as human being, speak the truth to the powerful and you too will soon be target.
+10 # 666 2012-08-17 06:39
We've been moving in this direction since well before 9/11 - that date just opened the floodgates
+37 # Buddha 2012-08-16 15:37
Well, such technology would certainly allow identification of Americans so there is no need for voter ID laws! But we all know what that is about, and that these technologies are another paving stone for autocracy, when our voting is meaningless anyways. I'd say "Wake Up America!" or something like that if I didn't think it is already too late to stop this march towards an authoritarian Police State in America.
+34 # JoodeHey 2012-08-16 15:48
Is it time to just give in and start wearing a full-coverage "burka"?
+19 # MidwestTom 2012-08-16 16:02
Under this administration the DHS has ordered 1,1 Billion rounds of hollow point bullets, and both the NOAA and the National Weather have ordered large quantities of ammo. FEMA has built large concentration camps , the government is building a giant information recording operation that will preserve any and all communication sent electronically and all phone calls. They also have turned your local police force into a semi-Army with new equipment. Plus, TSA is now using rolling road blocks, and has made it a Felony to to show opposition within 1000 feet of a Federal Elected official.

When he was campaigning Obama told us that he was going to build a domestic force larger than our Army, and he has kept his word.
+16 # DPM 2012-08-16 19:55
I keep hearing about these "large concentration camps" and, while I don't doubt that they might exist, I have never heard where any are located. If they are out there and they are so large and numerous, I would expect someone would know where they are and tell the rest of us. Who else would like to know?
+1 # Alternative 2012-08-17 08:05
Quoting DPM:
I keep hearing about these "large concentration camps" and, while I don't doubt that they might exist, I have never heard where any are located. If they are out there and they are so large and numerous, I would expect someone would know where they are and tell the rest of us. Who else would like to know?

Actuially I read long ago that Oliver North was given the assignment to create these camps.
+4 # 666 2012-08-17 06:44
yeah, but most of this started with bush, cheney, rumsfield and all their buddies. The camps, I believe, were contracted to halliburton.

if you think romney's going to make it all go away, you are sadly mistaken (to be polite). Just you wait and see! Especially after the GOP's next "october surprise"

but it's not a politician, it's a culture, an attitude, it's fascism!
+2 # Jim Young 2012-08-17 07:22
An October Surprise wouldn't be a surprise to me at all.

Most conspiracy theories are vastly overblown (like McCarthy on the level of threat more than the fact that there was some), but they do seem to try mightily every election October.
+18 # mrbadexample 2012-08-16 16:14
Put this fun news story next to the one about Obama's attorneys refusing to confirm or deny that there are already people being detained under NDAA and you have a recipe for totalitarianism.

Conspiracy theory ain't a theory any more...
+30 # MidwestTom 2012-08-16 16:17
Unfortunately our government appears to following the guidance laid out in Tragedy and Hope, by Professor Quigley of Georgetown University. In that book, which is a blue print for the New World Order, he states that the only way Americans would accept World Government is as a relief from a desperate depression. It appears that our government is preparing to make war on it's own citizens if they oppose the coming New World Order, which will be run bt bankers. Please note that for all of the talk about helping home owners, nothing major has actually been done. Banks must be paid, or houses are foreclosed. The more homeless there are, the closer we are to the NWO. Banks are fined token fines for major crimes, but NO bankers go to jail. Unlike the people at Enron whose crimes were peanuts when compared to Wall Street bankers. Jin Corzine is still uncharged.
+5 # letpeacereign 2012-08-16 19:05
I do not see a conspiracy to make us all deperate and dependent, rather an alliance in which the interests of the mega-rich come first.
+5 # 666 2012-08-17 06:47
you should see all the vacant foreclosed houses around me getting re-done and put on the rental market which is booming. Welcome to serfdom!
+5 # MidwestTom 2012-08-17 07:34
Remember that the administration decided to sell foreclosed houses in very large lots to billionaires.
-48 # Bonz 2012-08-16 17:04
How unbelievably unrealsitic to wish to go back in time to "the good old days." Our world has changed and continues to change as it grows smaller and smaller through technology. Bark as much as you like about our "loss of freedom," but isn't protection for "We The People" more important than you photograph on a survalience camera, that will quickly be overlooked, unless of course you have committed a crime against the state or "we The People?" Times are a'chancing, my friend. Get a grip and know that "the old days" are gone. A new world is emerging, and it's best to get on the wagon or be run over.
-30 # Robt Eagle 2012-08-16 19:31
Bonz, don't let the artsci's on this site get you down. They are all off in some kind of trance and hope that change won't come. Beware of the Obama, because with Eric Holder you can not prevent them from 1984 come true. Obama MUST be voted out of the White House or all your freedoms will be taken away.
+16 # Anarchist 23 2012-08-16 21:40
Do you really think 'Gott Mitt Uns' Romney would be a change in a good direction? this country is already Fascists-Obama is Fascism Light-Romney is 90 Proof. I am reading a book on Bonhoeffer-and have read several times Wm. Shirer's seminal book 'Rise and Fall of Third Reich' Perhaps you will notice the parallels etween what happened to that society and now to this.
+2 # Mrcead 2012-08-17 05:51
You turn on us because you're too afraid to speak out against the real threat.

We understand.
+8 # Gordon K 2012-08-17 09:56
Quoting Bonz:
How unbelievably unrealsitic to wish to go back in time to "the good old days." Our world has changed and continues to change as it grows smaller and smaller through technology. Bark as much as you like about our "loss of freedom," but isn't protection for "We The People" more important than you photograph on a survalience camera, that will quickly be overlooked, unless of course you have committed a crime against the state or "we The People?" Times are a'chancing, my friend. Get a grip and know that "the old days" are gone. A new world is emerging, and it's best to get on the wagon or be run over.

Bonz, you need to think a little deeper on the issue. Your comment sounds like it came out of Germany in 1939. I do not mean this as an insult, but as a reality check.
+14 # artsci 2012-08-16 17:12
Hopefully the "New World Order" wagon will run over Bonz first:)
+5 # Scott479 2012-08-16 20:25
Cheney and Bush have won.
+10 # 2012-08-16 20:58
People will abuse the latest technology because, like a dog that licks itself, they can.
-29 # kentuckywoman2 2012-08-16 21:05
I have mixed feelings about this. I generally don't do anything "wrong" out in public, so I really shouldn't care too much about whether they can recognize my face in a crowd or not.

I can definitely see how this is a great tool, if used properly, for law enforcement. If someone's out there planting a bomb, for example, I'd rather they be able to catch the person before anyone got hurt.
Wouldn't you?

Unfortunately, people demand technology. The younger generation, in particular, are absolutely CLUELESS when it comes to the importance of privacy. With the advent of Facebook and other social media, the younger generation has handed away our FREEDOM to the highest bidder.

And they're totally clueless as to the consequences - until it comes back to bite them in the butt.

Still, I have to say that if used properly, I might actually feel safer knowing that these cameras might deter crime. From all the accounts I've read, it seems to help. I, like one of the other posters here, will concede some of my freedom in order to be safe.
+14 # CTPatriot 2012-08-17 04:08
"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Benjamin Franklin's Contributions to the Conference on February 17 (III) Fri, Feb 17, 1775
+14 # 666 2012-08-17 06:55
"I generally don't do anything "wrong" out in public, so I really shouldn't care too much about whether they can recognize my face in a crowd or not."

Really? You're in public now (RSN). You are on a site that--govt agents, gop & tea-bag lurkers aside--is generally anti-govt / anti-elite. You are already on a govt list (if you're not a plant) just because you are on this site.

So, when you are stopped on the street and questioned after being facially identified as a dissident (or potential terrorist since the govt is eliding those two ideas), just remember: you're safe.
-9 # BradFromSalem 2012-08-17 08:14
Even if someone is a plant, what makes you think that information is shared with local police for example? Even the plants are targets.

If the police (and other government agencies) really, truly need to track us, then they MUST let us know. This is consistent with the Constitutional prohibition against illegal search and seizure with a court approved warrant. So, go ahead track us, but let us know with prominent signage.
These type of spying on everyone issues are a moot point during political discussions because for intents and purposes, both the majority of Democrats and Republicans in office agree that they spying is needed. So not voting for Obama because of these type of issues is irrelevant. However, this the type of issue that a new party can come coalesce around.
+13 # Phlippinout 2012-08-16 22:20
And will the surveillance be used to make the world a better place? Hell no! All the tools used for power and gain and stepping on people who get too mouthy. What a waste!
+2 # BradFromSalem 2012-08-17 10:07

The government is primarily concerned with those that call out Corporate malfeasance. What that means is that the government and corporate insistence on a minimal regulations to allow Capitalism to reach its full potential is a sham. What they really want and have is to make sure the laws protect them, not people. (read them as corporations first followed by government second)
+22 # tigerlille 2012-08-16 22:42
What exactly is it that you want to be safe from? Do you live in a lawless environment surrounded by predatory criminals? Unless you live in public housing in the inner city, I doubt it. What is this elusive danger that people are so afraid of? The people to be afraid of are legal crminals, such as bankers and insurance company executives, and I don't think that facial recognition systems will be much of a help in bringing them to justice.
-5 # gtigerclaw 2012-08-17 01:24
This obsession with collecting information about people seems like a hoarding disorder. You can collect megatons of information about people and have all the surveillance power as God Himself who sees all and knows all, but when it comes down to it, it's all based on instilling fear in people because, they can't put everybody in jail.

This is a classic Edward Bernays' SOP PR trick playing on the herd fear instinct - the new god/Santa Claus knows when you're bad or good, so you better watch out.

Emilio Zapata said, "It's better to die upon your feet than to live upon your knees." And Franklin Roosevelt: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

Scaring people into submission, you don't have to use force.

If you look where we're headed with imposed austerity measures and the obsession with scaring people into submission is simply a way of imposing "Managed Decline," a Maggie Thatcher era concept.

Naomi Wolf is aiding and abetting the cause by using this to scare people rather than looking at it logically.
+9 # Mrcead 2012-08-17 05:46
Facial recognition is old news. Voice recognition is old news. That's not the issue, the issue is cracking internet anonymity (See Occupy and London Riots). The internet scares the hell out of governments - simply because the people who run them don't understand it so they wish to control or destroy it (see CISPA / SOPA). Be careful of apps and social media that offer to do things for you and don't fall for that location crap either. How many people in Sioux Falls ND like portrait photography, skydiving, Pinkberry, Doctor Who, Mini Coopers, Fuddrucker's copycat hamburger seasoning, Thomas the Tank engine, CSI Miami and Canadian Bacon and is between the ages of 25 - 45? Just meagan354 apparently. While your true name is obscured, you leave a data ghost that will have a location and a time stamp (thank you regional marketing execs). Stack enough of these ghosts together and you'll have a trackable pattern ( thank you "the cloud" aka skynet jr). Then one could use the data from facial recognition to narrow you down since they'll have a working radius and thousands of hours of recordings in digital format, so skip Pinkberry for a while to throw them off the scent. A supercomputer could run you down in a few minutes with enough info.

This is possible now. The programming needed to do this is ancient, using a smartphone is like wearing a beacon. When using the internet becomes compulsory, run.
+6 # 666 2012-08-17 06:38
the disney parks have been using facial recognition technology and total surveillance for years. everyone who visits is ID'd tracked and databased... disney is one of the leaders in developing and employing this technology, not only internally but matching everyone against external databases. Part of this was "security" against terrorists and sex criminals, but, you know, there's always a way to make a buck. Next will be blackmail (pay us $1000 and we won't send this picture of you and your girlfriend to your wife...). disney is private property and your ticket is your contract ceding all your rights. If you don't like it, you don't have to visit.

Sadly, the same attitude will probably soon be employed in the US. you will buy your "citizenship" like a ticket "ticket" -- and if you don't like, you can always move to another country...
+5 # futhark 2012-08-17 08:52
Barabara K, isn't it increasingly obvious that the 9/11 attacks didn't just "happen", but were deliberately organized and executed for the very purpose of lubricating the skids in the slide to the abyss of militarism and state surveillance. An increasing amount of evidence is accumulating that seriously calls into question the veracity of the orthodox version, the cornerstone of the Middle Eastern wars and the expansion of the surveillance state apparatus. This is no coincidence.

There needs to be a popular demand for a truly independent (not "bi-partisan") investigative commission with unrestricted subpoena powers to get to the bottom of these atrocities. I see the recent recurrence of "lone gunman" terrorist attacks as being part and parcel of the same continuing plan to promote state surveillance under the cover of civil protection. As long as the state is employing high technology methods to monitor citizens, the Bill of Rights is essentially dead. People will increasingly censor themselves from expressing any opinions that might jeopardize their lives, liberty, or property.
0 # Rascalndear 2012-08-17 14:12
We are too easily duped by various scares into thinking that the government wants or needs to "protect" us, when the main interest of politicians the world over is to protect themselves and their interests. No more, no less. When we stop foolishly hoping for saviors and daddies, maybe we will be sufficiently grown up to take care of ourselves.
+3 # Brian Flaherty 2012-08-19 15:50
Let's go back a few years. . .to 1954, and, the Age of McCarthy. . .Ed Murrow reminded us:

"... Cassius was right, the fault dear Brutus is not in our stars, but in ourselves."

And, NOW that WE know the "problem" what are WE gonna do about it??!!

THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.