Man fined £90 for refusing to smile for camera

Just as I sat down to write about San Francisco banning surveillance cameras, I read an article about the UK fining someone £90 for having the audacity to hide his face from a camera. ‘He was acting suspiciously’. This was a new camera system that they were trialling that uses AI (Artificial Intelligence) facial recognition to track people and the police didn’t appreciate someone not wanting to be tracked.

The UK is the most watched country in the world and guess what, it makes no difference for security. Likewise, we are one of the only countries in the world without national ID cards and guess what, you got it, the UK is not a more dangerous country than those with ID cards. In fact, the opposite.

There is a big privacy battle brewing up. On the one extreme you have China. They track everything and rank you. Total Black Mirror. On the other side, you have parts of the EU (in Portugal, even dashcams are illegal as they film people without their consent) and the US and Canada. Alas, the UK is heading down the China route and is already the most watched country in the world.

We could really do this right and have everyone get chipped at birth and follow them around. The innocent would get harassed and criminals would find work arounds to blame the innocent. It’s what some people would like. It’s the China model. Command and control. And the same people who don’t want encryption, want surveillance cameras.

We could have cameras follow every move we make. Whether you’re picking your nose, taking a duvet day or shopping for a birthday present, you’d be watched, and tracked. This goes against a fundamental premise of law and privacy. You’re innocent until proven guilty. Tracking you assumes you would be guilty if you were not tracked. It’s an invasion of your personal space. No judges order required for a tracking warrant as is currently necessary for a search warrant. But hey, they won’t need those in future if you’re chipped and tracked by camera everywhere.

Some security people will argue that this will make us more secure. So far, this is not the case. And you know that the cyber criminals will break in and get access to these systems. And override them and track you themselves. Normal people will suffer, and the government and bad guys will benefit.

And even if it did, which they don’t, what is our privacy worth? Everything has a price. We don’t not ride motorcycles, or horses, or bicycles, or climb mountains as it’s far safer not to. Privacy is important for individual freedom and creativity. We’ve all done things that if a camera was watching, we wouldn’t have. Most of these things are innocuous but we would have no Banksy or riding skateboards downstairs or base jumping in cities. All things that define us. We are people and we like to push boundaries and express ourselves. Surveillance cameras take this away from us.

Well done San Francisco.

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