Monday, October 6, 2008

Smile! You're On Candid Camera

You may not have realized but we are surrounded by surveillance cameras.

Some of these cameras are installed so discreetly that you may not have noticed that you are being watched. The truth is, there are closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras installed at MRT stations, in buses and trains, schools, void decks, carparks, along many streets as well as at certain hot spots like Boat Quay and Little India.

All these cameras are supposedly installed for legitimate purposes. But what is considered legitimate? At the moment, the use of such cameras are not regulated. How is one going to draw a line between legitimate surveillance and invasion of privacy?

In ST 2 Oct, The Home Affairs Ministry said that they are going to acquire the latest face recognition software to use with its surveillance videos. Although far from idiot-proof, the latest technology attempts to calculate positions of facial features and match the data with a database. What is means it that, your whereabouts will be known in an instance by merely taking your images with the new camera.

There are many ways the government and businesses can get hold of identified images. The government has built up a massive database in the course of its administration and big corporations could have the resources to compile personal data that are floating freely in the cyberspace. One such source is from social networking sites like Facebook where innumerable personal photos are uploaded. Personal blogs are another potential mining fields for similar information.

With this advancement in technology, will the potential of privacy intrusion be taken to a new height? A few horror images appear in my head....

Scene 1:
I walk into a shop and the shop owner look at her computer screen. She takes a quick browse at my past transactions with the shop. She walks away as the computer flashes the message "Browse only. Never buys."

Scene 2:
I call in sick and inform my boss that I have one day MC. Our HR system started to track my whereabouts. When I report for work, my boss ask for 10 good reasons why I ended up in Orchard Road.

Scene 3:
I call the school. The helpful administrator checks her computer and trace the captured images of my child. She almost instantly inform me that my child is eating nasi lemak at the school canteen.

Scene 4:
I visit the bank. The computer-linked camera scan my face and prompt the receptionist to show me to the 'non premium' customer queue.

Scene 5:
At a moment of weakness, I throw my used tissue at the bus stop. 2 days later, I receive a letter from the NEA saying, "How are you? FINE, thank you!"

Scene 6:
I step into the lift in the office building and the button showing '22' lights up, sending me to where I work.

This is getting far too eerie! I guess there is only one way to be sure: always behave yourself in public. So, the next time you are out there, don't forget to smile ... you'll never know.. someone is watching you!

Gleeeeeeee !

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