American Consequences - September 2018

This shift has not gone unchallenged. In the U.K., the South Wales police and the Metropolitan police face legal action from Liberty and Big Brother Watch, respectively, for their use of automatic facial recognition. In the U.S., the city of Orlando, Florida, has abandoned its trial of Amazon’s Rekognition facial recognition software. India’s biometrics system also faces legal challenges. While the government made signing up to Aadhaar voluntary, it is effectively mandatory for anyone who needs to access government services, open a bank account, or obtain a mobile phone contract. Yet obliging Indians to use Aadhaar became illegal in 2017, after the Supreme Court ruled that the “right to privacy ... [is] an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty.” The Court upheld the government’s authority to curtail privacy rights for a compelling reason, such as national security, crime prevention, or social welfare; but the action must be reasonable and proportional to the end sought. More worrying is that Aadhaar is not secure. In January 2018, reporters at the Tribune newspaper in India paid 500 rupees (just under $8) to get a login and password that enabled them to access the name, address, postal code (PIN), photo, phone number, and email of every person in the system. For just 300 rupees more, the reporters could print out – and start using – copies of anyone’s unique identity cards. Years of massive data breaches in the U.S. (affecting companies such as Target, Yahoo, LinkedIn, and Intel, as well as the federal government’s Office of Personnel

Anne-Marie Slaughter , a former director of policy planning in the U.S. State Department (2009-2011), is President and CEO of the think tank New America, Professor Emerita of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University, and the author of Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family. Stephanie Hare is a researcher, broadcaster, and fellow at Foreign Policy Interrupted. Management), and reports of companies such as Facebook and Google handing over personal data to developers and other third parties, have led to little concrete change. This may reflect a lack of incentives: While identity fraud resulting from such breaches is tiresome and time-consuming to resolve, any financial pain is ultimately borne by banks and credit-card companies. It is a different world of pain when our biometric data is compromised, because unlike our usernames or passwords, biometric data cannot be reset. Moreover, errors are even harder to correct. And when paired with other data about us (financial, professional, and social), our biometrics can be fed into algorithms and used to deny us loans, health insurance, and jobs, guess our sexuality or political preferences, and predict our likelihood to commit crimes — entirely without our knowledge. Having a unique, unforgeable identity could be a blessing. But we must identify and protect against the many ways that it can become a curse. © Project Syndicate

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