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Facial recognition, migrants and techism

By Mal Fletcher - posted Friday, 12 August 2022

"It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity." So said Albert Einstein in the wake of the atom bomb's deployment.

We still live under the shadow of the nuclear cloud, even if the threat has, in the public mind, taken a back seat to global warming of late. At least, until Russia invaded Ukraine. Yet there are also other ways in which Einstein's observation remains remarkably prescient.

In what appears to be a world-first, the British Home Office and Justice Ministry might soon use wearable smartwatches to keep track of migrants convicted of crimes. Said migrants would be expected to upload photos of themselves up to five times per day. In time, of course, the same approach might be used on native Britons who've committed crimes.


I can find no record of the Chinese government attempting this and it is the world leader in the use of intrusive surveillance technologies, including biometrics.

The British approach, if adopted, would arguably create more problems than it solves. Whether we intend it or not, this system might be perceived beyond our shores as a sign that "global Britain" values the state's right to surveil above individual freedoms, including privacy.

In addition, singling out migrants, criminal or not, sends a worrying message about our attitude to migration. It seems to suggest that migrants as a class are more likely than other cohorts in society to produce criminal re-offenders.

This at a time when Britain, like most of Europe, needs managed migration to maintain its GDP and to help pay for its cumbersome health system and its ageing population.

Meanwhile, such a move might in time open the door to the use of wearable technologies as predictive tools. Ten years ago, at least one British company helped reduce crime in parts of the U.S. by analysing crime data. Its data analytics software allowed police to focus their resources where particular crimes were most likely to be committed. Similar systems are used by at least 14 police services within the UK.

There's a big difference, though, between this and AI algorithms that supposedly predict a specific type of crime being committed by a particular individual.


Under the latter system, arrests might be made based on assumed future intentions as opposed to actual deeds.

Given the rate at which governments, businesses, security services, urban planners and more are adopting predictive data analysis tools, this is no longer purely a sci-fi scenario.

Concerns about the government's use of wearables - particularly when aligned with facial recognition - are part of a much wider debate about the growing incursion of surveillance into our private, social and working lives.

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This article was first published on 2030Plus.

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About the Author

Mal Fletcher is a media social futurist and commentator, keynote speaker, author, business leadership consultant and broadcaster currently based in London. He holds joint Australian and British citizenship.

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