Privacy is dead

Law enforcement agencies throughout the United States are increasingly relying on predictive policing technologies which combine traditional video surveillance equipment with artificial intelligence. Proponents say the new technologies are going to make Americans safer. But is the cost to privacy too high?

Reason magazine released a very interesting video report last week detailing how government agencies are teaming up with Silicon Valley to build what could eventually become “infrastructure for a police state.”

The Reason report focuses on Palantir, a Palo Alto tech company which bills itself as a threat intelligence firm.

The company analyzes the troves of content Americans willingly turn over to tech companies every day along with other publicly available data to produce what has been billed as pre-crime intelligence.

Palantir’s biggest clients are currently the FBI, SEC and the CIA. And it’s doing big business.

As GS Early wrote in February 2016:

It is certainly a tool that law enforcement and our intelligence services would find valuable to root out potential terrorists or groups that are planning some terrorist act. It is also useful to find people who are attempting to elude authorities. And being able to get ahead of the some of the more devious players on Wall Street and their illegal trading schemes would be nice.

But you can see where this could be turned on Americans, just as easily as the NSA turned its endeavors on to less than righteous paths.

Palantir is raising eyebrows in the epicenter of digital startups because most companies, once they reach a certain size, move out of Palo Alto and build a campus in some surrounding town.

Not Palantir. It now owns about 10-15 percent of all the available space in Palo Alto, more than 250,000 square feet. It is the fourth most valuable venture backed company in the world.

Palantir is just one part of a booming tech sector currently working to use predictive technology to identify possible criminals before they perpetrate crimes.

A second report out in AFP over the weekend detailed how other firms are working to create surveillance video monitoring capable of identifying criminal activity in real time.

From the report:

US-based startup Deep Science is using the same technology to help retail stores detect in real time if an armed robbery is in progress, by identifying guns or masked assailants.

Deep Science has pilot projects with US retailers, enabling automatic alerts in the case of robberies, fire or other threats.

The technology can monitor for threats more efficiently and at a lower cost than human security guards, according to Deep Science co-founder Sean Huver, a former engineer for DARPA, the Pentagon’s long-term research arm.

The technology works by cataloging identifying information and behavior patterns gleaned from video footage.

Again from the report:

Israeli startup Briefcam meanwhile uses similar technology to interpret video surveillance footage.

“Video is unstructured, it’s not searchable,” explained Amit Gavish, Briefcam’s US general manager. Without artificial intelligence, he says, ”you had to go through hundreds of hours of video with fast forward and rewind.”

“We detect, track, extract and classify each object in the video. So it becomes a database.”

This can enable investigators to quickly find targets from video surveillance, a system already used by law enforcement in hundreds of cities around the world, including Paris, Boston and Chicago, Gavish said.

Used together with law enforcement biometric databases, including facial recognition information, this means being in public will soon mean having your every moved tracked by government surveillance.

Welcome to the future, comrade.

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