The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Biometric Recognition Systems Are Just Totalitarian

So, the next iPhone will have facial recognition unlocks.

This will be easy to beat, since the web is full of pictures of, well, almost everyone. Just use a hard to crack/guess password, people.

But it is a swell and dandy totalitarian technology. We are closing in on facial recognition which can only be defeated by full masks. Gait recognition is being worked on as well, retinal is well understood, fingerprint, etc.

As I warned years ago, combined with ubiquitous cameras, infra-red, and so on, and even without the foolishness of cell phones, tracking devices, and bugs people voluntarily carry with them, virtually all of your movements every day will be tracked. Cameras increasingly have mics as well, so it won’t just be video, but in many cases audio. You won’t be able to remember what you did ten years ago, but those with access to the system will know.

This is a panopticon like nothing the world has ever seen. Yes, the older world was high-surveillance by people, but it was nothing like, “We know exactly what you did at 3.33 pm 12 years, two months and three days ago,” and the surveillance was done by people you knew.

Any sensible society with the least concern for either privacy or civil liberties, would outlaw this technology. It will also absolutely crush creativity.

In the meantime, black bloc or not, if you are protesting, go fully masked (not partially), with mirror shades, and do something to alter your gait.

Of course many countries are making full masks illegal.

When this sort of tech is fully deployed, 1984 will look like a utopia.

Enjoy your freedom while it remains and be bitterly amused that the best chance we have for preventing this stuff creating a totalitarian nightmare is catastrophic climate change.

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What 9/11 Did to America and the World


Review of Rest, by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang


  1. realitychecker

    ” . . . be bitterly amused that the best chance for this stuff to not create a totalitarian nightmare is catastrophic climate change.”

    Another reason to support Trump lol?

    We live in interesting times, don’t we?

  2. No Ian, we are too stoned and delighted with our devices.

  3. Alex

    And they pay $1000+ to boot for it too.

    Is this a great country or what?

  4. escher

    My hope is that the steadily worsening economics of energy production means that this tech will become impractical to deploy before it gets too far off the ground.

  5. Herman

    Most people don’t care about the implications of this kind of technology or they love it because it is seen as cool and hip. Devices are the new status symbols and people are obsessed with their phones and other gadgets. If you raise concerns about any new technology you are immediately branded as a Luddite or you are told that only those with “something to hide” should be worried about this. I say that people should wear the Luddite label with pride as the positions of anti-tech writers are being proven correct all the time.

    Today there is strong faith that technology will solve all of our problems in the future, including those problems created by new technology. At the extreme end of this type of thinking you have the transhumanists who have made a kind of religion based on tech worship complete with their own versions of technological immortality. For most ordinary people tech worship is more akin to primitive idolatry with people fawning over their devices like ancient worshipers bowing before a graven image.

    Hopefully climate change or economic collapse will put the brakes on insane new tech ideas. I don’t see any chance of popular resistance to them. As I wrote, the public either doesn’t care or embraces this stuff. Those who take a more negative position are cowed into silence by social pressure or worries that their beliefs will make them unemployable since another wonderful result of the Internet is that employers can now find out things about you that would have been very difficult to discover in the past.

    This is progress? I don’t think so.

  6. Someofparts

    Some TV show is promoting a new gag. Take a video of a friend doing a mad jig behind somebody so engrossed by their phone that they never see the person behind them dancing like a dervish.

  7. atcooper

    Thankfully, most of the code this stuff runs on is terrible. Look to the self driving car and it’s long road to viability as an indication of the rigor in the system.

    There’s a term of art, correctness, as in a piece of software’s rigor, most of this stuff is woeful in a professional sense. So there will always be something.

    This certainly isn’t to discount the issue though. This whole surveillance state is like a live panopticon extraordinaire. It drives thought policing.

  8. V. Arnold

    Sputnik News is allegedly under investigation for acting as a foreign agent; and may be forced to register as such…
    Bye, bye 1st Amendment.

  9. realitychecker

    It’s a good thing the population is too passive to ever fight back.

    The oligarchs and their minions can sleep well. That is what really matters, silly liberals.

  10. The Stephen Miller Band

    In the meantime, black bloc or not, if you are protesting, go fully masked (not partially), with mirror shades, and do something to alter your gait.

    Or more specifically, Evolve. Like this guy. One Theory of Evolution holds that Radical Evolution can be prompted by a rather sudden manifestation in the environment that causes the species to adapt quickly in order to survive. Maybe the Panopticon will promulgate such a Biological Reaction in Humans, or something akin to it.

    FYI, it’s an interesting movie.


  11. Alison McDowell

    Echoes of “Super Sad True Live Story.”

  12. Billikin

    “Radical Evolution can be prompted by a rather sudden manifestation in the environment that causes the species to adapt quickly in order to survive.”

    Tho most likely result, OC, being extinction.

  13. Synoia

    This will be easy to beat, since the web is full of pictures of, well, almost everyone. Just use a hard to crack/guess password, people.

    The surveillance solution to that is 3D cameras which measure depth a facial features.

    You’d need a mask of person not a photo.

    However with 3D cameras in extensive use, accurate masks are as difficult as finding a 3d printer…

  14. What about eyes? Are going to ban them too? Perhaps we should all be blinded at birth.

    At least in England under common law our liberties have always been based on personal accountability. You have only got to look on social media and at protest rallies to see how behaviour deteriorates as soon as people can hide behind avatars and balaclavas etc. That is why we in UKIP banned the burka in our 2017 manifesto (in fact all masks in public places other than those justified on health and safety grounds) and the measure proved popular amongst all communities including Muslims.

    We face massive migration flows and imbalances both now and in the years ahead. AI and other new technologies mean that developing countries will no longer be able to clamber onto the manufacturing bandwagon and catch up like China has done over the past 20 years. Africa’s population has doubled over the past 30 years and is set to do so again. No prizes for guessing where they will all want to go. Unless we get our immigration control act together now we will be swamped out of existence. Surely even you can see that whole world cannot live on our tiny island, or even in the US for that matter. You have to draw the line somewhere so it might as well be here. They will have to just live where they are born and go on being poor. That is their responsibility, not ours.

    The only totalitarianism on the horizon is Socialism. Socialism is an ideology, and historically ideologies have always turned first into fanaticism and then into dictatorship. Democracy has only survived because of muiltinationalism – if it is extinguished in one part of the world it continues to shine like a beacon elsewhere.

    There is also an optimum size for the nation state. Too small and it cannot defend itself, but too big and internal division open up which undermine its coherence. The UK is fortunate in being in the size Goldilocks zone, whereas the EU and the US are far too large and should be broken up, rather like a conglomerate that can no longer find synergy efficiencies between its subsidiaries. You only have to look at the US’s deteriorating infrastructure, its widening income and regional gaps and its reliance on guns for the safety of its citizens to see that.

    Bio-metric recognition systems may well prove to be the saviour of democracy.

  15. StewartM


    And they pay $1000+ to boot for it too.

    Is this a great country or what?

    Gah, don’t get me started.

    It’s just dismaying how people not only trade their freedom away for a locked-down computer. a computer that they merely have user rights not admin rights, and because of this plus because it runs closed software that they had no clue what it really is doing behind their backs, is probably working against them.

    Worse, they pay a lot more for this dubious privilege than they would for a traditional desktop or laptop (because mobile devices have a much shorter lifespans) where they *might* have some measure of control over (though UEFI is an attempt to limit that)….this just boggles the mind. While this doesn’t solve all the problems I mentioned, I note that Linux is *free* and at least mitigates some. I guess Game of Thrones is just too much to pass up.

    Then a peek at Facebook shows you what the internet revolution has come down to. The Unabomber was right for the wrong reasons about technology.

  16. DMC

    Gathering mountains of data presents a problem for the gatherer, namely correctly indexing and generally making searchable the mass of raw data. The security apparatus of the US has grown hugely since 9/11 but I question whether it is going to be able to keep up with this ever-growing mass of data, even in terms of storage. Just the video of all the CCTV cameras recording empty hallways must take up immense amounts of storage and it seems to me that its going to require very sophisticated algorithms or some implementation of AI to sort the “signal” from the “noise”. Which isn’t to say that the “spooks” aren’t working on precisely that, its that I would assert that they’d underestimated the magnitude of the issue.

  17. Alex



    This is definitely the “ooooh, shiny, sparkly” generation.

    But there is hope, though.

    I’m reminded of Bullwinkle and Rocky.

    Mr. Chairman, I am against all foreign aid, especially to places like Hawaii and Alaska,” says Senator Fussmussen from the floor of a cartoon Senate in 1962. In the visitors’ gallery, Russian agents Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale are deciding whether to use their secret “Goof Gas” gun to turn the Congress stupid, as they did to all the rocket scientists and professors in the last episode of “Bullwinkle.”

    Another senator wants to raise taxes on everyone under the age of 67. He, of course, is 68. Yet a third stands up to demand, “We’ve got to get the government out of government!” The Pottsylvanian spies decide their weapon is unnecessary: Congress is already ignorant, corrupt and feckless.

    Today, I can picture almost all current GOPers saying “We’ve got to get the government out of government!”

  18. realitychecker

    55 years ago. I guess that proves the power of satire, amirite? 🙁

  19. Hugh

    Steve Jobs hated and had nothing but contempt for American workers. It’s why he shipped production to China and sought to subvert American labor law whenever he could. The Chinese, of course, didn’t have it much better what with subcontractor Foxconn’s suicide nets. You can still see a lot of Steve Jobs in the iphone: We tell you what you want, and you will like it whether you like it or not, and we will charge you at least twice as much as anyone else for the privilege.

    If you wish to change your gait, put a pebble in one of your shoes. If you wish to change your facial metrics, put a little cotton guaze in your mouth between your teeth and cheek.

    Re John Poynton, any group of political ideas is an ideology. So, oh, let me see, everyone above the age of 6 has one. As John Stuart Mill noted like a hundred and forty years ago, socialism is about the consequences of giving ordinary people the vote. Apparently John has problems with this.

  20. Steeleweed

    You are quite correct that global warming will solve the problem – simply by crashing the necessary business infrastructure that enables most of our 1st-world lifestyle. It will also cause the death of billions of people and extinction of numerous species. I’ll be gone before the worst of it hits, but aside from sympathy for my great-grandchildren, what bothers me most is that my generation is the last – at least in the 1st-world – that understands a society that is not based on cheap energy and rampant consumerism.

  21. Gormander

    Note: I have a strong technologist bias (I work in tech), but feel like a lot of the comments are ignoring a few things:

    First, particular to the latest iPhone:

    – The newest iOS has a ‘cop mode’ that lets you disable biometric recognition (face id/touch id), by hitting the power button five times. So in theory you can switch if your threat model changes. And yes, I agree if you’re someone with a greater risk you shouldn’t be using biometric IDs in the first place / have the phone turned off.

    – If you run into people that work at Apple, you’ll realize many of them are really security conscious, to the degree that some employees don’t use any social media or 3rd party email and the same ones showing up at the protests. This should be somewhat comforting that they’re the ones trying to bring in this technology in a way that’s safer. Watch the actual keynote where they talk about their approach.

    – Even non-biometric locks have their security flaws. There’s papers talking about how cameras from a distance can make an educated guess of your password. With that in mind, biometrics may actually be better for times when your threat model is less but there’s still a presence of an observation device.

    For facial recognition in general:

    – Biometric recognition via cameras in buildings/public spaces has already been around, and yes the fears are valid. We need to figure out what kind of society we’ve become to desire deploying it so widely, and make appropriate laws to limit it. I think in many cases smaller municipalities don’t bother as the cost/service contracts don’t make sense for the more advanced solutions – it’s the opposite case for high traffic tourist areas.

    Hope this doesn’t make me come off too much as a tech apologist, there plenty of things I absolutely hate about the tech industry’s ignorance towards sustainability and pursuit of selling panopticon solutions to authoritarians. Yet at the same time centering a single business around these issues is a bit naive.

  22. Re Hugh. OK, it depends on your definition. Just so long as it doesn’t become fanatical. Today the British Labour Party has a movement called Momentum who go around intimidating people just like Hitler’s Brownshirts.

    John Stuart Mill also coined the term the “tyranny of the majority”. We had a very good example of this when Labour closed down catholic adoption agencies a few years ago, and the same could be said of their insistence on universal comprehensive education. There are big differences between socialism and libertarianism. Socialists believe the State is sovereign whereas libertarians believe in individual freedom and responsibility.

    I am all in favour of the universal franchise (where would we have got on Brexit without it?) and of multiculturalism, but we should also promote freedom of choice and small government.

  23. atcooper

    Stoller and the tank he’s with had recent trouble with Google and funding. It’s great stuff. Here’s hoping the techbro keep overplaying their hand.

  24. Alex

    I’m chuckling at the dog today; it’s in the yard trying to avoid acorns falling from the trees.

    Yep. Funny how R&B are still relevant even today.

    I’m looking forward to when people get the “aha” moment and say “nope”. What’s really amusing is the amount of money spent on marketing and advertising. 2016: Samsung spent $10.2 billion USD on the S7 and S7 Edge, a 15 percent increase over what it spent in 2015.

    Samsung, like Apple, is trying to replace your computer with your phone. Samsung DeX is the phone hooked up to a keyboard and a monitor.
    They still think people want to take work with them.

    The problem with Apple is it’s made the iPhone a huge chunk of its business, and if that goes, goodbye.

    I like Apple, but when they fleece Iowa for $208M for 50 full-time jobs (that’s $4.1M per job) and evade taxes to the extent they do, they truly are awful.

  25. Alex

    What’s really amusing too, is Google paying billions to both Apple and Samsung to make it the default browser on their phones.

  26. Alex

    I meant search engine, not browser.

  27. Hugh

    Re libertarians, their starting point is taking for granted 99% of what society gives them. I say that society is mother, father, sister, brother. Without society, most of us wouldn’t exist, and if we did exist, we would not be much more than animals with lives both brutal and short. Your language, knowledge, history, religion or sense of morality, technology, and infrastructure on which you depend, which define you, which make you who you are all come from society. Libertarians have the unmitigated chutzpah to act as if they got all this on their own. They don’t owe any of the rest of us for any of it. Then they talk about personal responsibility. Well, in my book, the first principle of personal responsibility is recognizing the debt you owe to others.

  28. StewartM


    Samsung, like Apple, is trying to replace your computer with your phone.

    It’s all part of the war on people having general purpose computers that they largely control at their behest. Phones and tablets are nothing more than shiny terminals to a mainframe.

    So today we have marketing departments who say things like “we don’t need computers, we need… appliances. Make me a computer that doesn’t run every program, just a program that does this specialized task, like streaming audio, or routing packets, or playing Xbox games, and make sure it doesn’t run programs that I haven’t authorized that might undermine our profits”. And on the surface, this seems like a reasonable idea — just a program that does one specialized task — after all, we can put an electric motor in a blender, and we can install a motor in a dishwasher, and we don’t worry if it’s still possible to run a dishwashing program in a blender. But that’s not what we do when we turn a computer into an appliance. We’re not making a computer that runs only the “appliance” app; we’re making a computer that can run every program, but which uses some combination of rootkits, spyware, and code-signing to prevent the user from knowing which processes are running, from installing her own software, and from terminating processes that she doesn’t want. In other words, an appliance is not a stripped-down computer — it is a fully functional computer with spyware on it out of the box.

    (audience applauds loudly) Thanks.

    ((1090.5)) Because we don’t know how to build the general purpose computer that is capable of running any program we can compile except for some program that we don’t like, or that we prohibit by law, or that loses us money. The closest approximation that we have to this is a computer with spyware — a computer on which remote parties set policies without the computer user’s knowledge, over the objection of the computer’s owner. And so it is that digital rights management always converges on malware.

    The talk itself:

    And moving data to clouds is also part of this disturbing trend:

  29. What you inherit is free, and in terms of instincts both natural and nurtured often problematical. All generations benefit from the achievements of their forebears yet owe them nothing as they did not ask for it. As Margaret Thatcher observed, there is no such thing as society, meaning there is no organised elite. Personally I would define it as a natural phenomenon as human beings are naturally social. Government on the other hand is quite another thing altogether. Libertarians accept the need for sufficient authority to maintain order, but not so much as to undermine personal responsibility. If you treat people like children they will behave like children. No one likes to be patronised.

  30. realitychecker

    @ Hugh

    “Libertarians have the unmitigated chutzpah to act as if they got all this on their own. They don’t owe any of the rest of us for any of it. Then they talk about personal responsibility. Well, in my book, the first principle of personal responsibility is recognizing the debt you owe to others.”

    You open an important area for discussion, and while I certainly agree that it is absurd for a multibillionaire to claim he/she did it ‘all by myself’ I also see that finer calibration is indicated.

    I think a libertarian would say, “I did pay for what I got from the “community.” I did that when I paid my taxes.”

    Query: So, how far do we want to take the notion of paying for what you get/take from the community?

    We now have technology that could allow us to be microchipped and charged automatically for every use we make of community benefits. Every bridge we cross. Every sidewalk we walk down. Every water fountain we drink from. Etc., etc.

    Where would you like to see this end up?

  31. nihil obstet

    The overwhelming activity of government is advancing property privileges. That’s what libertarians miss. They talk about “small government” that just maintains order, but believe that the “order” is something preexisting in nature that just requires a little activity. But anyone who genuinely believes in small government is opposed to most property laws, certainly to any so-called intellectual property laws and patents. The whole enforcement mechanisms for contracts should go, as well. All of those things inhibit our cherished liberty. Is this desirable? We can disagree on that, but it’s absurd to call a government that does this enforcement “small”.

  32. realitychecker

    @ nihil

    Got enough strawmen in there to populate a new Oz musical lol.

    It’s a legit debate as to how much the individual owes to the community, and what the varying criteria should be.

    Small govt pleas are mostly about wanting a non-corrupt govt, so not the same topic, really.

  33. Alex

    Thanks. The Cory Doctorow talk was a good one. I’ll watch the other link this weekend.

    You’re probably right. It’s a long game about who has control.

    It fits right in with the “right-to-repair” debate going on. It started with (John Deere) tractors (pay $500,000 for a tractor and the only thing you can do is change oil, you can’t tweek anything else) and now I see Apple leading the fight against having Apple devices repaired. I think NY(?) was the latest one to debate legislation.

    The latest amusing this was the MS Surface getting bad reviews because it glued the laptop together to prevent repair.

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