Thursday, February 5, 2009

DMV proposal for face-detection technology irks privacy groups + Google Latitudes Privacy Concerns

Great news! Our coalition's efforts, which spans the political spectrum – including the ACLU, Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation, California Eagle Forum, Consumers Union, Privacy Activism, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, and the World Privacy Forum - have successfully broken the story I reported on Tuesday into the mainstream news. Not surprising too, is the full fledged support from State Senator Joe Simitian, a long time privacy stalwart.

To get the whole story on the DMV's attempt to bypass the legislative process in order to establish an “enhanced” biometric identification program in California check out Tuesday's post.

The bottom line is that the DMV and the Department of Finance are seeking to create a massive government database of biometric information from virtually every Californian over the age of 16 without debate or review - raising significant concerns regarding the increased surveillance, monitoring and tracking of individuals.

The good news is that the San Jose Mercury News's Edwin Garcia got wind of this story from us, and wrote an excellent article on it that was published today in both the Merc and Contra Costa Times.

Again, to get the backdrop on Biometrics, and the DMV's end around effort, check out Tuesday's post.

Now, here's a few highlights from today's article by Garcia:

Even as cost-conscious Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger looks to trim state spending every way he can, officials at the Department of Motor Vehicles are planning to spend tens of millions of dollars on new driver's license technology. And privacy advocates say finances are the least of the plan's problems.

The proposed $63 million contract includes facial recognition software that would allow the DMV to quickly compare an applicant's new photo against other photos in the agency's database in an effort to deter identity theft. The system could eventually include as many as 25 million images of drivers statewide.


"What this would allow law enforcement to do is scan a crowd of folks, check that image against the database and have their names and addresses," said Valerie Smalls Navarro of the American Civil Liberties Union in Sacramento. The ACLU is fighting the proposal with a handful of other groups, including Consumers Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Consumer Federation of California, which says the plan poses "massive threats" to personal privacy.

"We see this as sort of creeping Big Brother government, an invasion of people's privacy," said Richard Holober, executive director of the San Mateo-based Consumer Federation of California.


Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, perhaps the most outspoken lawmaker when it comes to privacy issues, is urging his colleagues to put the contract proposal before a public hearing, where DMV officials could provide more details about the facial recognition technology.

"There are at least four questions I want to ask," Simitian said. They are: Does the technology work? How much does it cost? Does it make the public safer? How will privacy be protected? "None of those questions should be avoided or evaded by doing an end around the process, which is really what's being proposed here," Simitian said.

Obviously I'll be covering this issue right here as it progresses. In fact, we only have until February 11th to stop this power grab and place this issue in its proper place before the public and the full legislature.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

I also want to add a comment about yesterday's news regarding Google's new "Google Latitude", which will allow users to track their friends as well as be tracked (most notably by Google and advertisers too). One issue I forgot to bring up - amazingly - was the concern that the Federal Government, particularly in light of the retroactive immunity given to telecoms for wiretapping, could demand Google turn over all the tracking information they have on everyday American citizens.

It's not at all hard to imagine such a scenario, and its not at all hard to believe that Google, or any corporation for that matter, would turn over everything they have on you in the blink of an eye. Just something to consider as we enter the Brave New World of new technologies enabling unparalleled invasions of privacy and tracking abilities.

Further, as reported by the BBC, there's another privacy concern we should be aware of:

"Privacy watchdog Privacy International argues that there are opportunities for abuse of the system for those who may not know that their phone is broadcasting its location. Privacy International director Simon Davies gives the example of employers who might give phones to employees with Latitude enabled.

"With Latitude, Google has taken steps toward privacy that it has hitherto not taken," Mr Davies told BBC News.

"The problem is that they launched the services without allowing all phones to be notified." Google admits that the notification service is currently only available for BlackBerry users.

I think the Electronic Frontier Foundation sums this dilemma up nicely (that of technology versus privacy): "Technology isn't the real problem, though; rather, the law has yet to catch up to our evolving expectations of and need for privacy. In fact, new government initiatives and laws have severely undermined our rights in recent years."

As for those tracking technologies, so far, both Google and Loopt promise not to store a history of someones movements. Other similar services make no such promise. In its privacy policy, actually says it will "provide your personally identifiable information, location information and other non-personal information to affiliates, subsidiaries or other businesses to provide some Where Services." In its policy, Brightkite, another service, notes that in the event of a merger, sale or bankruptcy "we may not be able to control how your personal information is treated."


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