Japan and the privacy contradictions

Pierluigi Paganini March 28, 2012

The massive use of new technologies has often raised thorny questions about the privacy of network users. The most difficult issue to resolve in the necessary to reach a compromise to assure the users requirements of security and privacy. The debate generates heated arguments, confusion and sometimes decisions in apparent contrast.

In Japan, to the multinational company Google has been asked to disable the autocomplete function used for the research because it is non compliance with privacy regulations. The decision to disable the famous feature of the popular search engine has been then by a Japanese court acting on a petition accusing Google to have implemented a defamatory functionality.

The news has been published by The Japan Times that reported that the petition has started by a citizen who alleged that some of the autocomplete suggestions accompanying his name were defamatory and also put at serious risk his privacy bring it up to the job loss. Typing the name of the Japanese citizen inside the search engine it propose as results criminal acts not related to the person. If a suggested term is selected a list of items defaming is proposed.

Actually Google has not disabled the functionality but has declared that it is working to review the results proposed to the incriminated query. The Google spokesperson said

“The judge did not require Google to completely suspend the autocomplete function.”

Google has also declared that the results cannot be defamatory they are generated automatically and they don’t refer to a specific individual.

I just brought this case to highlight how Japanese judges were careful to privacy of its citizens, a sign of great civility and respect for the individual. But not all gold that glitters.

While we discuss of the sentence against Google another news attract my attention. Japanese CCTV camera from Hitachi Hokusai Electric can scan 36 million faces per second – and recognize anyone who has walked into its gaze. The camera is equipped with a sophisticated facial recognition software that can instantly recognize a human face, qualify it and create immediately inside its database a responding record.

The technology is extremely interesting and it is obvious that governments and security agencies are the main beneficiaries. The system can be used also to analyze photo in an existent archive or inside the photos of a social network, being the starting point for further investigations.

The software can scan through days of CCTV footage almost instantly because the software works directly on the stored records, every face is stored as a searchable ‘biometric’ record.

If we desire to search a specific subject it is necessary to submit its picture to the system that instantly research all the related results inside its database.
In this ways it is simple to find a specific individual working on a gallery of pre-indexed faces.

Who are the main client of this kind of applications?

‘We think this system is suitable for customers that have a relatively large-scale surveillance system, such as railways, power companies, law enforcement, and large stores,’ says the company that aims to propose the system on the market next year, according to a report in DigInfo.

Let us realize that we are comparing ourselves with the eye of big brother, a tool that when deployed in large numbers in an urban setting allows to the owner to violate the privacy of every individual, this happens in that country that was opposed to Google’s search results. Where is the concept of privacy? Which is the boundary between privacy and security?
Who controls the systems? Obvious that a distorted use of these technologies raises disturbing questions about the on privacy front. A big electronic eye will always follow us … then if we join data acquired with these technology with the one acquired by our telco provider and with that managed by our bank we can realize how utopian is the What are we willing to sacrifice in the name of security?

A further consideration must be made ​​on the security of these systems that handle valuable information and that if compromised could be a privileged source for intelligence and espionage ​​activities. Are we ready to protect these systems from external attack? The issue is far from trivial, crossing the information retrieved from a video monitoring network on a large scale is possible to trace in a timely manner the experience of an individual in a particular field. Complex systems of facial recognition are suitable for other purposes such as the massive analysis on social networks.

Easy to understand how the massive distribution of this technology can be considered also a cyber threat, using similar applications it is possible to instantly pinpoint locations, relationships and place individuals  in a timeline.

.. the day of big brother is arrived … and we’re not on a scene from the movie “Enemy of the State”.

Pierluigi Paganini


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