Welcome to the Surveillance State: Biometrics Data Collection is All Around You


    by Corey Lynn, Corey’s Digs:

    The worldwide digital panopticon isn’t coming – it’s already here.  While China has the most surveillance cameras in operation overall, reaching a total of 200 million throughout the country, most people would be shocked to know that the United States has the largest number of surveillance cameras per person than any other country in the world.  China may be considered the most advanced in their mass surveillance and control system, but with exports of this technology, regimes around the globe are quickly catching up.  In the age of information, “the world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data.”  Biometric identifiers such as facial geometry, fingerprints, voiceprints, and even your DNA are now highly prized commodities.  Rapid developments in biometric data collection implemented in every aspect of our daily lives has made the public vulnerable, while lawmakers fall behind in protecting the private data of their citizens.

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    Source: Interesting Engineering, “How does facial recognition work?” July 24, 2020

    While the global biometrics technology market is estimated to be worth about $49 billion in 2022, the industry is projected to more than double its worth at $102 billion by 2027.  The driving factors for this booming market are the integration of biometric systems into smartphones and IoT (Internet of Things) devices such as Amazon’s Echo, as well as the rising demand for biometric systems by public and private sectors alike.  As the worldwide surveillance system takes shape, consumers have justifiably become more wary.  A recent survey found that 86% of respondents have growing concerns over their data privacy, and 78% of those surveyed have fears over the amount of data collected on them.

    Federal legislation to protect citizens from mass surveillance and data collection in the U.S. has failed to catch up with the development and implementation of these technologies, as some states are struggling to fill in the gaps.  While at least 35 states plus the District of Columbia have proposed nearly 200 privacy protection bills in 2022, at least 7 states have introduced laws specifically addressing biometric data collection including California, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, and New York.  Currently, the Illinois ‘Biometric Information Privacy Act,’ passed in 2008, is the strongest legislation in the country to protect citizens from unauthorized biometric data collection, allowing citizens the right to sue for violations.  Texas and Washington have enacted laws to address protections against the collection of biometric data as well.  The ‘California Consumer Privacy Act’ and the New York ‘Stop Hacks and Improve Electronic Data Security’ laws do also address some protections against biometric data collection.  While Massachusetts passed state-wide restrictions on facial recognition use for law enforcement purposes, Virginia replaced their state’s complete ban on facial recognition used by law enforcement for a bill that allows the use of facial recognition within certain limitations.

    As lawmakers fail to effectively regulate the ever-growing appetite for our biometric information, the responsibility lies on the public to stay well informed as to the many ways this private data is collected and exploited.

    On Your Body

    The global market for smart watches and smart wearable devices has grown to roughly $20 billion in 2022, and is expected to reach over $30 billion by 2026, with about one-in-five adults in the United States wearing them regularly.  Despite the fact that most privacy policies for wearable devices admit that user information is shared with third parties, consumers are not well informed about who has access to their data and how it may be used.  Concerns over the exploitation of users’ private health information have grown since Google acquired Fitbit, one of the largest wearable technology companies.  We have seen how this technology has been weaponized against the people in China, where citizens are forced to wear devices that collect their biometric information, track their location, and can even scrape data from the users’ cell phones.

    Aside from wearables, a market is emerging for ‘ingestibles’ that read biometric information.  During a 2018 World Economic Forum Conference, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla referred to a pill that had received FDA approval, which contains a “chip that is in the tablet, and once you take the tablet and [it] dissolves into your stomach, [it] sends a signal that you took the tablet.  So, imagine the implications of that – compliance.”  When discussing the risks for patient privacy and data breaches, professor of neurology at Georgetown University Medical Center responded, “Could this type of device be used for real-time surveillance?  The answer is of course it could.”

    Source: Redline Liberty, “Pfizer CEO @Davos: a pill with a tiny chip that tells authorities when the drug has been digested,” May 20, 2022

    On Your Phone

    While the market for mobile biometrics was valued at over $18 billion in 2019, it is projected to reach nearly $75 billion by 2025.  By 2020, an estimated 80% of smartphones in Asia, Western Europe and North America have enabled biometrics data collection.  With features such as facial recognition and fingerprint authentication, users compromise the privacy of their biometric identifiers in exchange for the convenience of no longer using passwords or PIN numbers.  The popular iPhone company, Apple, has faced a class action lawsuit based on its Photos app, which was alleged to perform facial scans of users’ photos and store them in secret facial recognition databases, violating the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act.  Biometric authentication algorithms from cell phone company, Samsung, were stolen and leaked by a hacker group, raising questions about the privacy and security of biometric information collected and stored from mobile devices.

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