December 19, 2013

By: Kelly Diamond, Publisher

Think of every well-intended use of facial recognition (biometric) technology.  Identity protection?  Or even identifying a potential criminal? 

In light of the revelations shared by Edward Snowden, I think there is a growing and healthy skepticism of surveillance technology. 

The inconveniences and uneasiness people are experiencing have many second guessing just how much the Pros – such as safety – outweigh the Cons – such as personal privacy.

biometric surveillanceIn a recent article by Bloomberg, this technology is expanding and working its way into the general marketplace.  Biometrics is the new probe into the lives of individuals.  I feel like such an old-timer, harkening back to my days in marketing, but here goes… back in MY day, we had focus groups.  People were asked to participate, and they volunteered to answer questions about themselves.  Major marketing research companies like MRI and Scarborough, even Nielsen and Arbitron, would reach out to individuals within each market to get information about their viewing and buying habits. 

The BIG deal here is the participation was voluntary.  Granted, eight years ago, there was no denying that the one thing most people liked to talk about most was… Themselves!  So naturally, surveys were an easy sell.  Age, gender, household income, profiles of heads of household, profile of decision maker… man these reports were exhaustive! 

But while the results were for sale, the personal information such as name and address were always left out.  I never for even a second considered that these major research companies were selling off the identities of their participants. 

Fast forward to today, and I’m astounded at how the marketing landscape has changed.  I hardly recognize it.  I don’t know if individuals are as eager anymore to share their information.  In many ways, I think the novelty has worn off, but I also think that information sharing and data mining has taken on a new role in our society.  We’ve abused this desire people have to share their information, and now we have to bribe them for it.  Companies are dangling free stuff or discounts to get email addresses, or, while access to their content is free, they require your email address.

It’s gotten so bad, that now the most treasured commodity in marketing is an “organic” lead!  I.e. that guy who seeks you out and finds you the old fashioned way… through advertising, rather than bribery and hunting.

This surveillance technology and biometric scanning, even the “tagging” many do on social media sites with their photos, is the next level of tech-based marketing.  I thought cookies were bad enough.  Tracking my clicks and what sites I visit while they try to deduce what ELSE I would like.  But now, commercial businesses are considering using it for their own personal marketing data mining.

Here’s the problem: once you HAVE the information, who do you think will come knocking for a taste?  NSA?  DHS?  IRS?  FBI?  While businesses are profiling their consumers with great care, the government is profiling their next false flag patsy! 

Let me go on record as saying: I am against government regulations.  But the greatest abuse I could see happening is by government, not the private corporations.  The corporations would bury their information as proprietary and hide it from their competition.  They don’t WANT anyone to know what they know about you.  And their only real plot against you is to sell you more stuff.  So in the end, all you need to do is muster up enough fortitude to resist the temptations of more advertising… in other words, learn to say NO.

BUT, when government gets their hands on your information, their endgame isn’t simply to get you to buy more of their stuff.  Why?  Because that’s what their monopolies are for.  Their endgame is not to get you to do anything… it’s just to get you.  And that’s creepy.

Businesses are asking for no regulations at all until such time as circumstances call for it.  The ACLU is calling for heavy regulations up front to safeguard against civil liberty violations.  The regulations I would ask for have more to do with data sharing with government entities. 

Earlier this year in May, the Senate was debating a bipartisan, eight hundred page bill on Immigration Reform.  Eight hundred pages.  Wonder what was buried in there?  “[L]anguage mandating the creation of the innocuously-named ‘photo tool,’ a massive federal database administered by the Department of Homeland Security and containing names, ages, Social Security numbers and photographs of everyone in the country with a driver’s license or other state-issued photo ID.”

The proponents of this legislation are saying it ensures that only legally documented individuals are obtaining these precious American jobs.  Even if you believe that immigrants were “taking” American jobs, and even if you bought into the notion that immigrants from other countries are bad while immigrants from different states are totally fine, you still have to reconcile the notion if this biometric tool being used on everyone!

Mission creep is par for the government course.  Nothing ever keeps the benign form with which it starts off.  Social Security is a grand example of this.  I was born when the card had “This is not a form of identification”.  Guess what?  It’s not on my kids’ cards because now that’s the number that you use to do ANYTHING.  Rent an apartment, get a line of credit, get a job, start a bank account… So short of living off the grid entirely (which I totally commend if you can pull it off) there are many whose entire livelihood relies on that one number.

What about Social Security itself?  When it was first introduced, it was not meant to be a slush fund.  It was meant to be a retirement and rainy day fund to take care of the elderly and the disabled.  Who could oppose that?  If the founders of those who forged this into law knew it would be the overdrawn trust fund it is today… if they knew it would be bankrupt 100 years from the time they signed it… would they have bothered implementing it?  Probably.  Politicians are chronically myopic.

And therein lies the problem: all the assurances in the world don’t matter.  I think we can put the promise of biometric surveillance NOT being abused right up there with “if you like your plan you can keep your plan.”