Thursday, July 8, 2010


Within hours of the September 11 attacks, even rabid civil libertarians were talking about the need for national
identification systems, giant linked databases, face-recognition technology, closed circuit television (CCTV) monitors, biometric authentication, profiling and increased government wiretapping powers. Some of these
measures particularly, more latitude in wiretapping have already been enacted as law, as security services around the world have seemingly dusted off every plan once deemed too invasive and presented it to legislatures.If to gain security in the U.S. we must compromise some of the rights that have been considered
essential, at least we should be reasonably sure that such measures will be worth the money and lost liberty. Yet based on current uses of the security technology, there is reason to remain skeptical.Most of the proposed technologies are not only controversial but also expensive, slow and complicated to deploy. Most are either untried or untested on the necessary scale and carry risks that are not well understood. Solid scientific data are frequently lacking few studies exist detailing the success rate of psychological profiling, for example. One rare exception is a January/February 2001 study published in Australasian Science that tentativelyconcluded that the few profilers who agreed to be tested (only five did) performed only slightly better than competing groups of psychologists, science students, detectives and, pulling up the rear, civilians and psychics.Media hype and overblown claims by firms selling the technology several companies involved in biometrics, the field that attempts to identify people through their biological traits, hired lobbyists in October
don’t help. Take, for example, the idea of combining face recognition with CCTV systems to scan airport terminals for for suspected terrorists. In the camera-filled U.K., the London borough of Newham claimed its pilot scheme produced a 21 percent drop in crimes“against the person” and unprecedented decreases in criminal property damage, vehicle related crime, and burglary. In August 2001 the U.K. approved a further £79 million (about $114 million) for 250 new CCTV systems.Simon Davies, a fellow at the London School of Economics and the founder and director of Privacy International, estimates that the country has at least 1.5 million CCTVcameras now in place.Jason Ditton, professor of law at the University of Sheffield in England and director of the Scottish Center for Criminology in Glasgow, is one of the few academic sources of CCTV information. His research,funded by the government’s Scottish Office, shows that the cameras are not cost effective and that they reduce neither crime nor the fear of crime. His 1999 study of CCTV in Glasgow’s city center revealed that although crime fell in the areas covered by the cameras,the drop was insignificant once general crime trends were taken into account. Even worse results were in Sydney, Australia, where a $1-
million system accounted for an average of one arrest every 160 days—a quarter of the Glasgow rate, which Ditton thought was poor.Moreover, it is not clear how much of a role the displacement effect the shifting of
crime from one area to another plays. A Sydney city council’s report indicates that the cameras probably displaced some crime to areas outside the lens’s view. And therein lies a fundamental design conflict. For the cameras to be an effective deterrent, everyone has to know they’re there; however, to be effective in spotting criminals they need to be covert. Trying to add face recognition to the camera system leads to an even more fundamental problem: you can only catch people you’re already looking for. James L. Wayman, director
of the U.S. National Biometric Test Center at San Jose State University, says flatly: “You cannot hang a camera on a pole and expect to ever find anybody. Even the vendors say that.”Indeed, the American Civil Liberties Union reported in January that such a system in Tampa,Fla., failed to identify any individuals in the police database of photos and misidentified some innocents as suspects. Even if it worked, the difficulty
remains of predicting what people will do.Wayman is a strong proponent of the Immigration and naturalization Service Passenger Accelerated Service System (INSPASS), which lets frequent travelers register handprints and speed through immigration checks. But “how do you know someone’s going to be a terrorist when they get on an airplane?” Wayman asks. “It’s beyond what science is capable of predicting.” Besides,as the September 11 events showed, terrorists could patiently build up seemingly legitimate travel logs and apparently innocent lives before committing their acts.Much of the debate about new security technologies is framed around the assumption that they will work and that personal privacy is a necessary sacrifice, when in fact the effectiveness of such technologies is questionable.An alternative solution, notes Philip E. Agre, associate professor of information studies at the University of California at Los Angeles, is to spend the money to bolster existing security practices: improving authentication for airport staff, training flight attendants in martial arts, improving luggage searches and finding ways to prevent identity theft. These and other
measures might eliminate the possibility oftrading security for dearly held freedoms.
   *source Scientific American.

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