“Everything will be monitored”
A leading IBM official has urged the world to “embrace” ubiquitous surveillance of the public through biometrics, because, he argues, it is too late to fight against it.
“…trying to stop this would be fighting the wrong battle.” said Peter Waggett, Programme Leader at IBM’s Emerging Technology Group.
“We’re fighting the wrong battle when we ask should we stop people being observed. That is not going to be feasible. We need to understand how to use that data better,” Waggett added, speaking at a Nesta panel debate on biometrics.
“The information is out of the bottle already — we have to deal with the issues surrounding it now. Embrace the challenge of what we’ve got, embrace understanding it and focus on what we can do with that new data.” he argued, urging people to stop worrying about preventing such surveillance from becoming a societal norm.
“I’ve been working in biometrics for 20 years, and it’s reaching a tipping point where it’s going to be impossible not to understand where people are and what they are doing. Everything will be monitored.” Waggett continued.
Alarming to privacy advocates, Waggett’s words also carry more weight, given that he also heads the BSI British Standards Biometrics Committee – a Royal Chartered group that is concerned with developing formal standards in the area of biometrics and promoting their use by government and industry.
During the debate, as Wired reports, Waggett referred specifically to depictions of biometric technology in dystopian films such as Minority Report, arguing that such technology is now already in place and unavoidable.
In the film, adapted from Philip K. Dick’s story, the general populace is subjected to total surveillance in the form of Iris scanners linked to a biometric database. The surveillance is often dressed up as or doubled up with targeted advertising and the promotion of mass consumption.
“The one thing they got wrong is you won’t recognise you’re being scanned — the flashing red light in the film is for effect, but all that’s now feasible.” Waggett stated, pointing specifically to mannequins already deployed in some stores that can gather age, sex and racial data on retail customers using facial recognition.
“The pressure to ID people is becoming more and important with things like the internet of things,” Waggett noted arguing that people’s biometrics should be made more readily available. “Google Glass wants to block facial recognition to stop people using invasive technology, but I think a lot of these things can be used for good.” Waggett added.
Waggett also spoke highly of other forms of biometric technology such as vehicles that interface with human brainwaves and heart rhythms.
“Biometric systems are becoming much more accurate and ubiquitous,” said Waggett. “It is impossible not to be identifiable by some kind of signal you’re leaving behind.”
IBM has most recently made headlines for being involved in the NSA surveillance scandal. The company is being sued by one of its shareholders over an alleged failure to disclose its involvement in the PRISM program. The company has denied that it co-operated with the NSA, and claims it has never given customer data, software source code or encryption keys to anyone.
Of course, the company’s shady past with regard to working directly with a tyrannical government to enslave and people is well known.
In this context, Waggett’s declarations on how we should all just stop worrying and learn to love the biometric surveillance grid will be greeted with great trepidation.