If you use social media or have a smartphone, chances are you’ve encountered facial recognition technology. FRT allows computers to recognize pixel patterns that suggest human faces, allowing selfie-taking cameras to mugshot-filled databases alike to distinguish when they are looking at human faces. Even though it is fairly commonplace, some would rather avoid it, leading to one journalist’s experiment with clownish black-and-white makeup on the streets of D.C.
Robinson Meyer, an associate editor at The Atlantic, tried a camouflage technique called computer-vision dazzle, or “CV dazzle,” which uses face paint and hairstyling to stymie FRT. The makeup deceives FRT by obscuring the eyes, symmetry, and the nose bridge, among other features that characterize the face. “Here was a technology that confounded computers with light and color,” Meyer reflected. But as he learned, CV dazzle is far from a guarantor of privacy. “The very thing that makes you invisible to computers makes you glaringly obvious to other humans.”
Nancy Szokan alarmingly theorized that Meyer’s camouflage experiment is “something a terrorist might want to do”: escaping government surveillance. But in reality, Meyer’s experiment mainly resulted in evading Facebook auto-tagging, a seemingly tame privacy threat. FRT is routinely employed in the private sector beyond social media, from catching cheating gamblers to providing security at large sporting events like the Super Bowl. Now, its capacity to foretell age has stirred interest in insurance companies, while its real-time entrepreneurial applications are being explored by advertisers.
But when it comes to FRT falling into the wrong hands, concerns are generally directed at the authorities rather than vice versa. Though FRT has existed in its most basic form since the 1960s, it has blossomed under the biometrics industry fueled by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, where the need to identify local populations induced the military development of portable biometrics systems. The government has enthusiastically inserted FRT into more routine use with increasing success: it shows up alongside other biometrics at airports and is now being introduced into police detective use. As Sameer Padania noted at Witness.org, “Law enforcement and security services particularly like FRT, as it does not require consent or knowledge of the subject being processed – unlike finger-printing, iris-scanning or similar biometric technologies, this can be done at a distance.”
It’s not the technology that is a major concern, Padania went on.
What’s new is this: this technology, which used to be accessible only to a few agencies, is now being used voluntarily, and unwittingly by millions of us through our use of social media. Our willingness to tag people in photos, and rapid advances in computer vision and object recognition have accelerated the use of FRT. We share so many images now that Facebook has, as this chart shows, the largest photo collection in history.
This voluntary engagement with FRT, which facilitates its intersection of cloud computing, is where change is beginning to occur. Jared Keller explained that the public’s increasing tech savviness opens the doors to “criminal, fraudulent, or extralegal ends” that are “as alarming as the potential for government abuse.” When private citizens organized a Google group to combine FRT with public records in search of identifying London rioters, they illustrated a new model of digital vigilantism.
The question, Keller says, is not how to escape FRT, whether donning masks or makeup. The question is how to live with it. “No matter what you choose to do or not to do, your life exists in the cloud. …Your digital life is becoming inseparable from your analog one. You may be able to change your name or scrub your social networking profiles to throw off the trail of digital footprints you’ve inadvertently scattered across the Internet, but you can’t change your face. And the cloud never forgets a face.”
CV dazzle may not become haute couture overnight. But surrendering selfies to Uncle Sam might, without anyone noticing.
When the below item first came across my inbox, I thought it was a pretty clever bit of satire. After a couple of inquiries, however, it turns out that you really can’t make this stuff up:
Sent: Friday, July 25, 2014
To: Sais Alumni
Subject: Call for Applications — Advanced Institutes in National Security
I work for the Hertog Foundation, an educational philanthropy in New York City. We are offering two seminars this fall in New York City and Jerusalem that I believe might be of interest to SAIS alumni.
- The first program, a weeklong study of the Iraq War, will be led by Paul Wolfowitz (AEI) and Lewis Libby (Hudson Institute), and will take place from October 27-31, 2014 in NYC.
- The second will be led by William Kristol (Weekly Standard) in Jerusalem, and will examine the idea of nationalism and its future.
The Advanced Institutes offer promising individuals, from a broad range of academic and professional backgrounds, an opportunity to engage with leading thinkers and practitioners. They are an important part of the Hertog Foundation’s mission to advance serious discussion of issues of public policy and political theory.
Details for the institute and how to apply can be found at hertogfoundation.org. All come with a stipend to cover travel, lodging, and time. The application deadline is August 1, 2014.
I hope you will share this email with outstanding candidates who might be interested. I would be glad to answer any questions you might have.
Hertog Foundation | Tikvah Fund
One has to wonder what lessons will be gleaned from rubbing shoulders with such luminaries as the convicted felon Libby (5 counts) and the brilliant architect of the second Iraq war cum ousted World Bank president Wolfowitz. The promotional material for their weeklong (weeklong!) program tells us:
The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 quickly removed the regime that had repeatedly defied America and gave Iraqis a chance to devise their own future. However, the war soon devolved into a messy combination of insurgency and sectarian fighting that brought thousands of U.S. casualties, sapped American will and credibility, and worked to the benefit of America’s other regional nemesis, Iran.
Well, that’s actually a surprisingly forthright assessment considering the source—though it leaves out a few things that came about because of the war, such as the 300,000 or more American veterans who now suffer from brain injuries; the roughly 600,000 dead Iraqis (mainly non-combatants); the estimated 3,500,000 to 5,000,000 Iraqis who became displaced persons; the 4,500,000 children who are now orphans in Iraq; and the $3,000,000,000,000 it cost U.S. taxpayers to accomplish all this.
Prospective participants are then told:
These events occurred not in isolation, but against the backdrop of broader international developments, particularly the ending of the Cold War, the attacks of 9/11/2001, and the on-going U.S. confrontation with radical Islam.
So I guess Libby and Wolfowitz are planning to put the decade-long (and counting!) disaster into to its proper global “context”; they’ll dust off some of the classic IR texts and tell the assembled that, yeah, maybe it didn’t work out the way we told everyone, and true, perhaps we were a little less-than-forthright about the reasons we decided to roll the dice and risk the lives and limbs of hundreds of thousands of our young servicemen and women, but hey, part of the reason we failed was “structural,” the end of the Cold War, and all that.
It should make for a fascinating week in New York.
James Carden is a TAC contributing editor, and served as an advisor to the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission at the State Department from 2011-2012.
The release of Rep. Paul Ryan’s anti-poverty “discussion draft” last week marks another milestone in a long, painstaking, and necessary project: the development of a non-toxic policy agenda on which the next Republican presidential nominee can run.
Zooming out, we see Republicans, like Tiktaalik, slowly transitioning out of the primordial soup of supply-side dogma. There was Rep. Dave Camp’s comprehensive tax reform proposal. It’s revenue neutral and maintains progressivity. Relatedly, Ryan takes care to insist his own proposal is “not a tax cut.” It’s true the conservative movement didn’t exactly leap for joy at Camp’s proposal—and there’s a myriad of reasons to doubt that the GOP could ever muster the courage to eliminate as many loopholes and deductions as it would take to reconcile the math of the Ryan budget.
But the larger point is this: a net tax reduction for the rich is now a radioactive position on the mainstream right.
Climbing down the income ladder, Ryan, in presenting his anti-poverty plan, with its devolution to states and consolidation of public assistance spending, noted that “this is not a budget-cutting exercise.” Yes, there’s the matter of reconciling these reforms with the harsh math of the Ryan budget. And the “accountability standards” to which states and local agencies would be held smells an awful lot to me like the anti-poverty version of No Child Left Behind.
But—and again—the larger point is this: a net reduction in spending on the poor and vulnerable is now a radioactive position on the mainstream right.
The recovery from “The 47 percent” and “You built that” will remain a tough slog over the next 18 months. However, the momentum is clearly in the direction of rational reform. The Tea Party era—in which “conservatism” for all practical purposes stood for an unholy alliance of plutocracy and Dixie revanchism—is clearly coming to a close.
Just how the all the manic energy of the last five years will be brought into the fold of a plausible governing agenda remains to be seen. The Room to Grow agenda represents the seedbed of ideas that might eventually become an appealing campaign platform. I like, in particular, Andrew Kelly’s ideas on higher-ed and job training, and Carrie Lukas’s emphasis on fiscal reforms that improve work-life balance.
Broadly speaking, the “reformocon” carriage is an interesting one, fraught with tension but full of possibility: that of the nontechnocratic wonk; of superintendence of the welfare state in a pro-market direction. Of bottom-up or middle-out reforms that issue from the top. The idea of a Medicare premium support system is qualitatively different than, say, Ronald Reagan’s original position on Medicare. But if the arrow is pointing in a rightward direction, can each faction of the right buy into it? Can you sell the idea of “reform” to people on a steady diet of Mark Levin, Ted Cruz, and Sarah Palin? Personally, I think the right would be better off it admitted—no, more than admitted—that “spontaneous order” does not and will not ever lead to a safety net or social insurance for the elderly.
But perhaps I worry too much. One of my themes in this space is the belief that the Tea Party was a cultural temper tantrum more than a granular programmatic shift. It may turn out that tea partiers can be lead to the water of an essentially neoconservative domestic agenda more easily than anyone currently imagines.
“States are cruel monsters” (attributed to de Gaulle) is one catchword about the tragedy of international politics; another is “who now remembers the annihilation of the Armenians” (said by Hitler, as he ordered his armies into Poland in 1939).
Some Americans feel troubled, even outraged, by Israel’s assault on Gaza, but most do not. The Gazans brought it on themselves by voting for Hamas, said a prominent New York rabbi, and a fair number of people agree with him. I’m sure many readers may feel angry and bitter at the sight of Israel using sophisticated American weapons to destroy a nearly defenseless people, but it’s a minority view. People have other concerns; many are actively pro-Israel, and would back Israel no matter what it did.
However there are some hard-headed and non-sentimental reasons to oppose the assault, for those unmoved by photographs of four-year-olds having their legs blown off as their Congress cheers and Israelis invent clever jingles about there being no school in Gaza because they’re no children left to attend. At Aspen over the weekend, at an important national security forum, Lieutenant General Michal Flynn, the outgoing head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said that if the Israelis succeed in destroying Hamas, something worse will emerge from the rubble. He went on (in the CNN radio excerpt I heard; not cited in the print stories) to say that recruitment to jihadist groups had been spiking in the past weeks throughout the Muslim world, as the jihadis used images of Israeli killing of children to draw in young men from throughout the region. In short, it appears that Israel is acting the world’s principle recruitment agent for terrorism. Four years ago, David Petraeus said the Israel-Palestine conflict endangered American troops throughout the region, and now a comparably top national security figure asserts that Israel is threatening to bring to power worse groups in Gaza while implicitly recruiting terrorists throughout the Middle East.
American leaders certainly would deny they’re engaged in generations-long war against the Palestinians; any establishment figure in Washington would quickly point to the aid we’ve given the Palestinian Authority and the many efforts by the U.S. to facilitate peace negotiations. But one can understand why a Palestinian would come to that conclusion: we shield Israel from international sanction and censure in countless international bodies, give it more aid than we do to all of Africa combined, and provide it with everything from the Iron Dome to sophisticated jets—all to ensure that “qualitative military edge” we are now observing in action. Read More…
The State Department’s annual report on International Religious Freedom paints a dark picture for religious liberty advocates. The AP says that “Millions of people were forced from their homes because of their religious beliefs last year,” referring to the IRF report’s summary of “the devastating impact of conflicts in Syria, Iraq and the Central African Republic.”
The IRF report itself opens by saying that, in 2013, “the world witnessed the largest displacement of religious communities in recent memory. … Communities are disappearing from their traditional and historic homes and dispersing across the geographic map. In conflict zones, in particular, this mass displacement has become a pernicious norm.”
In Mosul, the crisis of Iraqi Christians has reached fever pitch: a fourth-century monastery was recently taken by force. The tomb traditionally held to be the resting place of Jonah was destroyed by insurgents. The Iraqi government has denounced the rebels’ actions, but done little to stop them. An AP report sheds light on the havoc:
Residents in Mosul also say the Islamic State group’s fighters recently have begun to occupy churches and seize the homes of Christians who have fled the city. … Already in Mosul, the extremist group has banned alcohol and water pipes, and painted over street advertisements showing women’s faces. It has, however, held off on stricter punishments so far.
The State Department report was released on Monday, serving to illustrate a known trend of international religious chaos and neatly coinciding with President Obama’s announcement of David Saperstein’s appointment as Ambassador-at-Large of International Religious Freedom for the U.S.
The appointment has been a long time coming. Obama, criticized by some for dawdling, has allowed the post to remain vacant since Suzan Johnson Cook, Saperstein’s predecessor, vacated the post in October 2013.
Mark Silk writes at Religion News Service that Saperstein is highly qualified for the position:
Saperstein’s religious liberty bona fides is without peer. Two decades ago, he put together the coalition responsible for gaining all but unanimous passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the law that has recently become the darling of religious conservatives. In 1999, he was unanimously elected by his fellow commissioners to serve as the first chair of the USCIRF. He served on the first advisory council to Obama’s Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and was a member of the task force to reform the office. No representative of a religious organization in Washington comes close to matching his credibility across the political spectrum.
His appointment comes at a time when religious strife is prominent at home and abroad. Saperstein has been tasked with what is arguably one of the most complex and difficult political missions of the moment. He faces extraordinarily violent international religious conflict, in addition to the prospect of political resistance at home. And given the trajectory of the world, things look likely to only get worse before they get better.
With the party united, the odds are now at least even that the GOP will not only hold the House but also capture the Senate in November. But before traditional conservatives cheer that prospect, they might take a closer look at the foreign policy that a Republican Senate would seek to impose upon the nation.
Specifically, they should spend time reading S. 2277, the “Russian Aggression Prevention Act of 2014,” introduced by Sen. Bob Corker on May 1, and endorsed by half of the Senate’s GOP caucus. As ranking Republican on the foreign relations committee, Corker is in line to become chairman, should the GOP take the Senate. That makes this proposal a gravely serious matter.
Corker’s bill would declare Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine “major non-NATO allies” of the United States, move NATO forces into Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, accelerate the building of an ABM system in Eastern Europe, and authorize U.S. intelligence and military aid for Ukraine’s army in the Donbass war with Russian-backed separatists. U.S. aid would include antitank and antiaircraft weapons.
S. 2277 would direct the secretary of state to intensify efforts to strengthen democratic institutions inside the Russian Federation, e.g., subvert Vladimir Putin’s government, looking toward regime change. If Putin has not vacated Crimea and terminated support for Ukraine’s separatist rebels within seven days of passage of the Corker Ultimatum, sweeping sanctions would be imposed on Russian officials, banks and energy companies, including Gazprom. Economic relations between us would be virtually severed.
In short, this is an ultimatum to Russia that she faces a new Cold War if she does not get out of Ukraine and Crimea, and it is a U.S. declaration that we will now regard three more former Soviet republics—Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia—as allies.
A small, weak country might accept this dictation from a superpower. But Russia, where anti-Americanism is virulent and rampant and the Russian people support Putin’s actions in Ukraine, would want him to tell the Americans just what to do with their ultimatum. And how Russia would respond is not difficult to predict.
Our demand that she get out of Crimea and leave her two-century-old naval base at Sevastopol in the custody of President Petro Poroshenko in Kiev and his U.S. allies, would be laughed off. Putin would tell us that Crimea has voted to return to Russia. It’s ours, and we’re going to keep it. Now deal with it.
To make good on our latest red line, we would have to start shipping weapons to Kiev, in which case Russia, with superior forces closer, would likely move preemptively into East Ukraine. What would our NATO allies do then?
The U.S. directive to the State Department to work with NGOs in Russia, blatant intervention in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation, would be answered with a general expulsion of these agencies from Moscow. We would not sit still for this kind of open subversion in the United States. What makes us think they would? Read More…
At first glance, I thought my informal bet—that a red-state governor will soon claim he stood up to the Obama administration over the formation of health exchanges, despite knowing full well that his or her constituents wouldn’t be eligible for tax subsidies—had died a quick death.
According to a report in the Wall Street Journal:
A number of states are scrambling to show that they—not the federal government—are or will soon be operating their insurance exchanges under the 2010 health law, in light of two court decisions this week.
The efforts are aimed at ensuring that millions of consumers who get insurance through the exchanges would be able to retain their federal tax credits if courts ultimately rule against the Obama administration.
The rest of the story, however, doesn’t bear out this picture of “scrambling.” It’s true that a few of the states mentioned—Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico—have Republican governors. And while Arkansas is bona fide red state, it has a Democratic governor. So we’re not talking here about the likes of Rick Perry or Sam Brownback “scrambling” to secure tax credit eligibility on behalf of their states. That’s to be expected. If such governors were willing to forgo expanded Medicaid money, I don’t see why they’d be in a rush to protect health exchange subsidies, either.
There’s a golden political opportunity in the offing, it seems to me. The aforementioned Perry; or Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal; or New Jersey’s Chris Christie; or Ohio’s John Kasich—one or all of these potential presidential contenders could appeal to their party’s base by making a fresh case that they refused federal blackmail. At the very least, they could ensure the Gruber-gate story has legs for weeks to come.
Mind you, I’m not saying I’m prepared to believe them. (One would think the argument would already have been made at some point over the last two years.) But this whole rotten enterprise is an exercise in post hoc opportunism. This is the next logical step.
The American Conservative is excited to cosponsor the fourth annual Front Porch Republic conference on Saturday, September 27 in Louisville, KY. From FPR’s Mark Mitchell:
The conference will examine ways to promote a more comprehensive localist vision that both learns from and goes beyond the increasingly successful local-food movement. It will feature Wendell Berry as the keynote speaker.
Other speakers will include Bill Kauffman, Jeff Polet, Jason Peters, Katherine Boyer, Jeffrey Bilbro, Jack Ray Baker, John E. Kleber, Susannah Black, Justin Litke, and David Bosworth, among others.
The conference registration fee includes lunch and light snacks. The evenings before and after the conference will provide plenty of opportunities for attendees to gather informally with one another, speakers, and FPR editors for conviviality.
Conference space is limited, so please buy your ticket early. We hope you will join us in Louisville!
Why assume you need to make compromises to achieve connubial bliss?
In an article for The Atlantic, Olga Khazan profiles several polyamorous couples and wonders whether more families should consider open (non-monogamous) marriages. Khazan argues that polyamory’s great advantage is that practitioners better divide up and delegate the duties and pleasures of a relationship, mixing and matching for the best of all possible marriages. She writes:
Even many devout monogamists admit that it can be hard for one partner to supply the full smorgasbord of the other’s sexual and emotional needs. When critics decry polys as escapists who have simply “gotten bored” in traditional relationships, polys counter that the more people they can draw close to them, the more self-actualized they can be.
There’s an enormous assumption tucked into that first sentence. Monogamy isn’t premised on the idea that one person can ever be everything to a partner. When a marriage fails to fulfill “the full smorgasbord” it’s not a sign that anything’s wrong. An expectation that a partner (or full set of them) is meant to be a perfect complement is destructive to romantic and platonic relationships.
Unfortunately, the premises of Khazan aren’t confined to a negligible niche (polyamorous or otherwise). A survey commissioned by USA Network of 18-34 year olds in four cities (Austin, Omaha, Nashville, and Phoenix) found that 10 percent of respondents endorsed multiple partners within a marriage, “each of whom fulfills a need in your life.”
What does this mean in practice? One of the women profiled in the Atlantic story explains that she and her husband looked to add partners to their marriages because the spouses couldn’t fulfill all of each other’s needs. Her husband was interested in kinky sex, so he found a woman to practice BDSM with him, but the wife’s new boyfriend was picked for a more prosaic need: the boyfriend goes to the theatre with her and sees shows her husband wouldn’t enjoy.
The reporter asks what she calls “the logical, mono-normative question” why the wife didn’t simply leave her husband for her theatre-boyfriend, but the more relevant question is: why she didn’t just book season tickets for herself and a friend? Kinky sex is, well, sexual, but going out to the theatre isn’t an activity that’s reserved to lovers.
It’s natural for friends to fill the gaps in a marital relationship, indulging interests that aren’t shared with the spouse, providing emotional support, and simply varying our lens on the world. After all, C.S. Lewis’s observation in The Four Loves that “Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other. Friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest,” wasn’t meant as an aspirational image for spouses.
Spouses shouldn’t wind up completely sated by a relationship, able to retreat from the rest of the world. Married people, just like singles, have some needs that are best met by a friend or by a neighbor or by family. Our mutual, unsated needs draw us together in service to each other. Read More…
After a popular online campaign to legalize cellphone unlocking, which allows a consumer to change the settings on a phone in order to use it on a different wireless network, the president is about to sign the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act into law. It will legalize unlocking until the Librarian of Congress, who administers the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, reviews exemptions again next year.
The law is a significant victory for copyright reform activists like Derek Khanna, whose 2012 memo for the Republican Study Committee on how current copyright law stifles the free market set the tone for reform (after it got him fired). Khanna has called the ban on cellphone unlocking a denial of “a fundamental tenet of property rights; which is the ability to modify your own property.”
I spoke to Khanna to learn more about where the copyright reform movement will go from here.
A Democratic president standing up for consumer choice certainly represents a sort of conversational victory, but the law itself is something of a temporary fix. Are you happy with how the bill turned out?
Yes. It’s a short-term bill—this needed to be addressed urgently—but at the same time, Congress is considering other long-term fixes. To that end, there are ongoing copyright hearings in the House Judiciary Committee.
The tech field is fast-paced, while American government is purposefully slow-moving by design and by politics. How can Congress ensure the laws are keeping pace with the technologies they regulate?
The particular problem is that Washington hears only one narrow perspective on these issues. A lot of what I call “the forces of the status quo” have lobbyists that make their voices heard. Entrepreneurs and smaller business owners aren’t really being represented, so in Washington they almost don’t know what their regulations are preventing.
As you noted in your cover story for TAC earlier this summer, Republicans only took action on this legislation after the White House’s endorsement, which in turn followed a public outpouring of support. Will it always take that kind of massive push to get congressional Republicans to move forward on regulatory reform?
I hope not. I hope Republicans take the initiative. Our whole campaign here was based on the free market, which Republicans run on across the country. But they’re one step behind on technology, which is a shame, because that’s where the modern economy is.
But they’re starting to turn around on this. Congressmen like Thomas Massie and Jason Chaffetz are real leaders on this issue. The Young Guns Network, which represents Kevin McCarthy, Paul Ryan, and Eric Cantor, included a section on regulatory reform in their “Room to Grow” report. It goes out of the way to say we need wholesale copyright reform and makes a very enthusiastic plea for IP reform. It even directly cites my RSC memo. So these things take a long time, but there are real successes.
Tech policy is a straightforward way to win over the youth vote, but Republicans don’t seem to have noticed. Do you think that disconnect is purely generational? Can young conservatives just hope the party grows out of it?
I don’t know if it’s generational, but I know that it’s changing.
According to the College Republicans National Committee, in 2012, “young people simply felt the GOP had nothing to offer.” Kristen Soltis Anderson concluded, “There is a brand. …And it’s that we’re not in the 21st century.” That’s pretty stark. But the thing that polls best among young people is talking about innovation and technology. This isn’t just good policy, it’s good politics.
Those congressional offices never knew what hit them with SOPA/PIPA. For some people that was a seminal experience, the first time they had ever engaged in the political process and were able to make a change. And now with unlocking we have the first time an online campaign was able to actually introduce legislation. There is a whole generation of people who see these policies as really stifling innovation.
What’s next for copyright reformers?
There is a lot of work to be done in copyright reform still. How long should copyright terms be? The founders set it at 14 years and today it can be over 120. That’s kind of ridiculous in a world where every text, every tweet, every Facebook post is copyrighted longer than anyone who writes them will ever live.
The phone unlocking bill is great. But other issues are very closely related and if Congress doesn’t act soon, we’re going to see the ‘Internet of things’ collapse. A great example is that the next Keurig coffee machine is expected to have a digital chip technology built in such that you can’t use any other coffee pod. It would be a felony to use any other coffee pod with it! The technology would be used to stifle competition in the coffee market. This is just the tip of the iceberg because the benefits for existing businesses are overwhelming.
Any final thoughts?
There has been a sea of change in policymaking on copyright on the right since 2012, it’s almost impossible to find any conservatives, other than lobbyists for industry, opposed to substantial reform. The conservative position is we need to restore our founding principles on copyright.