It’s Not About Safety

homeland security

Lots of discussion in my feeds last week about school surveillance. Most of it was concerning a New York Times article about a small district near Niagara Falls that recently switched on a facial recognition system in it’s eight schools.

While they are one of the first K12 districts in the US to adopt this technology, the writer notes that similar systems are already being used in many public spaces like airports and sports arenas. In addition, more than 600 “law enforcement agencies” have adopted facial recognition software from a company called Clearview AI in just the past year.

All in the name of “security” and public safety, of course.


However, the Times article and the chatter around it recalled for me an important observation by Edward Snowden on this topic.

Ask yourself: at every point in history, who suffers the most from unjustified surveillance? It is not the privileged, but the vulnerable. Surveillance is not about safety, it’s about power. It’s about control. 

For those who say it doesn’t matter since “I have nothing to hide”, he also makes this analogy.

Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.

The companies, organizations, and now schools buying into these AI-powered surveillance systems don’t really care if you have something to hide. They just want to collect enough information to maintain control.

That’s not being paranoid. It’s being realistic.

The photo is from the Flickr feed of Duca di Spinaci and is used under a Creative Commons license. It was taken in London and, as best I can determine, the image is genuine since several people have posted variations on it over the years.

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