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We've heard of price gouging by retailers of American flags, 'Infinite Justice' mouse pads, and Bin Laden bin liners; but face recognition outfit Visionics takes the prize for bottom-feeding on America's bereavement, fear and anger.

The company that brings us the FaceIt crowd scanning package says it's ready for the patriotic mission of "Protecting Civilization from the Faces of Terror," if only the nation's airports would invest untold millions in its Orwellian product.

"In an effort to address heightened security concerns in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks on America, Visionics Corporation...announced today a comprehensive framework for the use of facial recognition technology in enhancing airport security," a company press release chirps.

The company would very much like the nation's airports (and ultimately passengers) to enrich its shareholders by setting up cameras throughout their facilities to scan crowds for frequent-flier terrorists, and by requiring "an instantaneous terrorist background check on each passenger upon check-in and boarding by searching facial images against intelligence databases of terrorists and their affiliates."

No data is provided indicating the relative likelihood that a terrorist well-enough known to have a head shot on file would actually be passing through a US airport. Since most members of the terror hit parade use obscure underlings to do their dirty work, we'd need to see some evidence that this scheme could produce anything more than a false sense of security.

Indeed, the more airport staff rely on technological wizardry, the less likely they are to apply proven security techniques like careful observation, challenging interviews, and gut instincts. Indeed, the chief criticism of US airport security today is the fact that it uses staff willing to work for McBurger wages -- meaning that our safety is in the hands of uneducated, uncommitted, unprofessional warm bodies just passing through and unlikely to be around for more than a year. No one with an ounce of self respect, after all, aspires to stare at X-ray images of luggage for eight hours a shift.

But Visionics will hear none of this.

"Paramount to building this protective shield...is delivering a scalable platform which can tie into an unlimited number of cameras and into a wide network of intelligence databases. Our Biometric Network Platform does exactly that. It incorporates our leading FaceIt technology, and, by adhering to industry standards for responsible use, can be deployed without posing a threat to our privacy," Visionics CEO 'doctor' Joseph Atick gushed.

We're concerned by the phrase 'industry standards for responsible use.' Truth be told, we'd just as soon not rely on an industry that profits from the manufacture and sale of the basic tools of mass oppression to devise 'standards' for our protection without legal oversight.

The danger of face recognition technology is not so much how it might be used today, but how, one day in the future, it could be exploited to search for just about any sort of unfashionable person.

We simply don't know what sort of government we'll have in 20 - 50 - 70 years' time. If today we should permit these tools to catalogue our faces because we trust the government we have at the moment, our descendants may well curse us if a Fascist regime ever comes to power.

It's a mistake to put the basic tools of mass oppression into the hands of any government simply because we have, at the moment, laws protecting us from its abuse.

Laws change; governments rise and fall. If we should hold fast now, a repressive future regime would have a hard time making a sudden power play for this sort of technology. However, if, thanks to our current state of doubt and insecurity, we allow it to become an everyday feature, we may not even notice its abuse until it's too late to stop without mass civil commotion.

We owe our children and grandchildren better. We owe them the right to be free men and women, to accept the risks of living in an essentially and eternally dangerous world, to come and go as they please without justifying themselves to underpaid nitwits and without submitting to a biometric scan to enter a restaurant, attend the cinema, watch a ball game, or meet friends at the airport.

We owe them their essential humanity.

A Visionics 'white paper' heroically called "Protecting Civilization from the Faces of Terror: A Primer on the Role Facial Recognition Technology Can Play in Improving Airport Security" is to be posted here. It was not available at press time, but is promised soon. ®

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