Sunday, March 30, 2014

Taking your picture against your will is a violation of natural law

Previously, in the post entitled "Crazy Horse against mind control," we saw that it is widely believed that Crazy Horse never allowed anyone to take his photograph.  

Certainly the historian Stephen E. Ambrose believed that no one was ever allowed to take Crazy Horse's picture.  Some believe that Crazy Horse did once pose for a portrait when he was young, but even if that is the case (and it is disputed point and one that is by no means proven), it is indisputable that Crazy Horse believed that his image belonged to him and that it was not allowed to be taken without his permission.  Whether he gave that permission once in his lifetime or whether he never gave that permission is not as important as his attitude towards his inherent natural right to consent or not consent to having his image taken by someone else.

It is no small point to ask whether, as I believe, Crazy Horse was right and no one has a right to take your image without your permission or whether, as some are trying to argue today, anyone stepping foot outside of his or her home concedes this right and may be photographed with impunity by anyone (including corporations and the state).

Recently, an article appeared in Wired magazine's UK version entitled "Get ready to have your biometrics tracked 24/7," in which a panelist participating in a discussion of biometrics, security, and privacy voiced the opinion that:
Biometric systems are becoming much more accurate and ubiquitous.  It is impossible not to be identifiable by some kind of signal you're leaving behind.  Accuracy is going up almost exponentially and we are dealing with concerns about privacy and how we map that.  But trying to stop this would be fighting the wrong battle.  The information is out of the bottle already -- we have to deal with the issues surrounding it now.  Embrace the challenge of what we've got, embrace understanding it and focus on what we can do with that new data.
By biometric systems, this panelist (who is an employee of IBM with a title of "Programme Leader at IBM's Emerging Technology Group) is referring to sensors deployed in public places which capture images of people's faces and gather other data from their bodies, and which use computer technology such as facial recognition, gait analysis, or a wide variety of other traits in order to identify individuals, know where they are at any given moment, know where they have been, and assemble data about their habits, preferences, and activities.

The panelist from IBM is also quoted as saying:
We're fighting the wrong battle when we ask should we stop people being observed.  That is not going to be feasible.  We need to understand how to use that data better.  I've been working in biometrics for 20 years, and it's reaching a tipping point where it's going to be impossible not to understand where people are and what they are doing.  Everything will be monitored.  It's part of the reason why when we put together the definition of biometrics it included biological and behavioral characteristics -- it can be anything. 
So, there are clearly individuals who believe that there is no inherent right over your image and your "biometric data" (including biological and behavioral characteristics), and that the individual must renounce any expectation of ownership over such data and simply accept that this data does not belong to the individual but to whatever entity wishes to "monitor" it.

Such a position can be described as diametrically opposed to that maintained by Crazy Horse.

Granted, these quotations come from one individual, voiced at some panel somewhere, and perhaps be dismissed as one man's opinion and nothing to become concerned about.  However, the individual voicing this opinion can probably be accurately described as a fairly senior individual at a major corporation; he apparently has been at IBM since 1997, and in his present role as "Programme Leader" at their Emerging Technology Group for fourteen years, and we can assume that his views probably reflect the views of that corporation rather accurately and that after that much time in that position this individual is by no means a "loose cannon."  Further, this view is apparently held by other individuals who are involved in "putting together the definition of biometrics" (note the use of the word "we" in the final sentence of the second quotation shown above).

So, which view is closer to the truth?  Does the individual have a right to determine who takes his image (and by extension, his other biometric data which can be apprehended by modern sensors)?  Or, as the representative from IBM says, should we concede that in modern civilization "everything will be monitored" and the individual needs to realize that "trying to stop this would be fighting the wrong battle"?

Readers of this blog will not be surprised to learn that I believe this to be question of "natural law" (or "universal law").  The concept of natural law, as articulated by philosophers such as Lysander Spooner, states that "anybody and everybody" has an inherent right to be free from coercion or the threat of violence against his or her own person, ideas, and property.  This right is equal among all individuals, without distinction, by virtue of birth, and is not granted by anyone else, and it is not subject to anyone else's approval or disapproval.

Spooner applied this concept to the practice of slavery, which was "legal" in the United States during most of his lifetime, and which he opposed as a horrible violation of the natural law rights of the individuals who were enslaved under that illegal system.  He did not concede that "trying to stop slavery would be fighting the wrong battle," that slavery was like a genie that was already "out of the bottle" and that we simply need to "embrace the challenge of what we've got."  He stood up to argue that slavery was an outrage to natural universal law and that it should be abolished, and he did so strenuously and tirelessly in spite of the chorus of voices that argued that it was impractical or ridiculous to try to end an institution so widespread and one considered so economically essential to so many people and  corporations, and to the state itself.

If Spooner is right, then a natural law right is enjoyed by every human being simply by virtue of being born: it is not dependent upon race, nation, geography, economic circumstance, or time period.  If Crazy Horse was correct in asserting his right to determine who captured his image on film in the 1800s, and if such a right was his by virtue of natural universal law, then such a right still belongs to every human being alive today, regardless of the voices arguing that the march of technology has done away with that right ("not going to be feasible," says the representative from IBM).

But is the right to one's image and biometric data really a natural-law right?  Is it not hyperbole to draw a parallel between Spooner's arguments against slavery, in the face of the "respectable" voices of the 1800s who argued that slavery was a fait accompli, and those today who oppose the respectable voices of major corporations who argue that biometric surveillance is a similar fait accompli?

To answer that question, one need only change very slightly the assertion of the representative from IBM, and imagine that he were to put forward the argument that individuals must consent to being photographed, facially recognized, biometrically tracked, and otherwise surveilled within their own homes at any and all times.   What if he had instead declared:
We're fighting the wrong battle when we  ask should we stop people being observed in their own homes.  That is not going to be feasible.  I've been working in biometrics for 20 years, and it's reaching a tipping point where it's going to be impossible not to understand where people are and what they are doing in their own homes.  Everything will be monitored.  [. . .] trying to stop this would be fighting the wrong battle.  The information is out of the bottle -- we have to deal with the issues surrounding it now.  Embrace the challenge of what we've got, embrace understanding it and focus on what we can do with that new data we are collecting in your own home.
Would such a declaration go against natural universal law?  To ask the question is to answer it.  Such a declaration would be a hideous affront to natural law, and the individual's inherent right to be free of the threat of coercion or violence in his or her person, ideas, and property.  Lysander Spooner himself declared that natural law is so inherent and innate that it is generally obvious to every human being on the planet by the time they are seven or eight years of age.

If the assertion that others have the right to film you and collect other biometric data from you in your own home is an obvious violation of the natural universal law rights inherent to every individual, then can we possibly argue that such surveillance ceases to be a violation the moment an individual steps out his or her door?  Can anyone seriously maintain the position that the moment they step outside their own personal residence, they somehow grant to any other individual, corporation, or agent of the state the right to seize their photographic image, video imagery, and biometric data?

Because it is virtually impossible to conduct one's entire life without leaving one's personal residence (even if only to get food), maintaining that it is wrong to take someone's image (and other data) without their consent in their home but somehow OK to take it from them anywhere and everywhere else they happen to venture is clearly an illogical and erroneous position.

Furthermore, anyone who does maintain such a position, who says "you have a right to be free from the seizure of your image and data at home, but if you step outside your door you forfeit that right -- so if you don't want your image and data seized just STAY AT HOME ALL THE TIME" is basically consigning anyone who disagrees to having their image and data taken from them to a form of imprisonment: a virtual "house arrest" for life.

Some, of course, have argued that anyone who is not a criminal should not worry about giving up their data, being photographed, videoed, and essentially tracked wherever they happen to go.  "If you aren't doing anything wrong, then you don't have anything to fear" from such surveillance, the argument typically runs.

This argument is wrong on many levels.  On the most basic and fundamental level, those who make such an argument should be shown that pervasive surveillance is morally wrong: it violates natural law.  If seizing an individual's image and biometric data against his or her will is wrong, then that should be the end of the argument -- if someone else says "you don't have anything to fear" from such behavior, even if it is wrong, they are arguing a secondary point, a secondary point which is trumped by the primary and superior point that such behavior is morally wrong, whether anyone has anything to fear from it or not.

Crazy Horse apparently had religious or spiritual beliefs that caused him to not want his image to be taken or his "shadow stolen" by a camera.  Someone else declaring that he really "had nothing to fear" from having his image taken would be making an irrelevant point: he did not want his image taken, and so he did not have to concede to having it taken, whether or not someone else thought he had something to fear.

In order to make this point perfectly clear, we could use a different analogy.  We could imagine that instead of having one's image and biometric data seized by other individuals, corporations, or governments, we were instead discussing having one's body groped randomly by strangers whenever venturing out into public.  What if someone were to argue that the moment anyone stepped foot outside of his or her house, he or she should consent to being groped by several other individuals, as well as by agents of whatever corporations or businesses he or she visited on that trip, and also by various representatives of the federal, state, and local governments of the area?  What if they were to maintain that such groping was just a part of one's everyday trip to the store to get groceries, or the gas station to buy gas, or drive downtown to meet some friends for dinner?

Would that be a violation of the natural law which Spooner said gave every individual the right to be free from violence or the threat of coercion against his or her person, ideas and property?  Of course it would -- it would be an intolerable violation, and no one would willingly concede to such an absurd proposition.  No amount of speeches from subject-matter experts telling us to "embrace it" would possibly convince anyone that such behavior was not a violation of their person and a violation of natural law.  No amount of patronizing platitudes telling us that no permanent harm is done by such groping would convince us that it is in any way permissible.  They might say, "Don't be silly, you have nothing to fear," as some voices argue regarding the collection of biometric data, but if a behavior is wrong and a violation of natural universal moral law, then it is wrong -- all other arguments are secondary to that first question.

Additionally, as has been argued in previous posts such as this one, the very idea of constant surveillance is a giant step on the road to enslavement, and that such surveillance (by design) forces changes in the behavior of those being surveilled, and that it also leads to changes in speech and ultimately changes even in thinking.  Thus, such surveillance is a pernicious form of mind control, and those who employ it are lining up on the wrong side in the war against consciousness -- the very consciousness that ancient civilizations believed was the ultimate goal of human existence (see for example this previous post).

Because, as Spooner himself observed, natural law is so deeply ingrained in each of us, convincing people to act against natural law takes a lot of effort.  We inherently know that the opinions expressed by the IBM representative quoted above are false, and that they are in fact abhorrent.  We know that seizing people's imagery and biometric data routinely and without their consent is a form of violence, and a violation of their inherent dignity as individual human beings.  In order to overcome that resistance, and get people to come around to an opinion that such surveillance is "impossible" to stop, that it's just "not going to be feasible" to think our images and our data belong to us, and that we all need to "embrace the challenge, embrace understanding it" and let our bodies be remotely groped by the sensors of whatever corporation or government entity want to have their way with our data, those corporations and government entities are going to have to employ an awful lot of propaganda, hypnotism, and mind control.

In fact, this article in Wired, ensuring that the comments of the learned representative from IBM get the widest possible distribution, may well be seen as part of that long and difficult campaign -- the endless layers of soft imagery and suggestion that result in mass mind control.

Ultimately, this discussion uncovers a much larger question, and one which was front and center during the life of Crazy Horse as well, and that is the question of whether, in order to enjoy the benefits of modern civilization, one must necessarily give up one's inherent natural-law rights.

I believe that the answer to that question should theoretically be "no," but there are many voices who seem to argue that civilization cannot survive or move forward without trampling on the natural universal rights of individuals, both within its borders and without them (certainly this was true during the nineteenth century and the life of Crazy Horse, as the agents of the United States seized the lands of the Native Americans, killed those who opposed or resisted such seizure, and ultimately murdered Crazy Horse after he made peace and put down his weapons).

Those voices which argue that the violation of natural-law rights is an inevitable and even necessary aspect of civilization, and that we should all "embrace" that fact should be opposed at every point.  They are wrong -- as wrong as the voices who said during the same nineteenth century that slavery was a foregone conclusion, and that it was "just not feasible" to get rid of such a vital institution.  If enough people reject the hypnotizing voices trying to lull them into acceptance of such violations of their natural rights, then such institutions (like slavery) can be overturned, regardless of how impregnable they appear.    

It turns out that Crazy Horse's resistance to having his picture taken has incredible relevance for every single one of us in the modern world.

Below are a few relevant links for further examination of this subject:

  • "11 Body Parts Defense Researchers Will Use to Track You," Wired magazine, 01/25/2013.
  • "Biometric Database of All Adult Americans Hidden in Immigration Reform," Wired magazine, 05/10/2013.
  • National Population Register: My Identity My Pride, official website of the government of India, explaining that it is mandatory for every citizen above the age of five must report to local "enrollment camps" to have their "biometric attributes" collected by the state, including a photograph (suitable for facial recognition software identification), ten fingerprints, and two iris images.  Note the use of blatantly propagandistic slogans such as "My Identity, My Pride" in the title of this biometric data-collection campaign -- evidence which supports the assertions made in the above blog post that people inherently know such mandates are a violation of national law and that to overcome their inherent resistance, mind control techniques are routinely employed.  The video advertisements supporting this biometric-data campaign in India are rather striking examples of the level of propaganda being employed: the ads feature evocative images of Indians reaching down into the very earth of their homeland and smearing it over their faces or the faces of others, as if to say that the biometric features of the individual belong to the land itself, and by extension the state.
  • Sistema Federal de Identidad Biometrica, the official video from the government of Argentina promoting their "SIBIOS" system of biometric identification for all citizens.  A similar level of propaganda to that seen in the advertisement from India is evident here as well.  
  • A clip from the 2002 film Minority Report (shown at the top of this post), which apparently was referenced by the same IBM Programme Leader at the Emerging Technology Group during his remarks in the March 2014 Nesta debate.  According to the Wired article, the IBM speaker said that the kind of personalized advertising triggered by biometric-recognition software shown in the film is now a reality, but, "The only thing they got wrong is you won't recognize you're being scanned -- the flashing red light in the film is for effect, but all that's now feasible."  Distopian movies such as Minority Report -- especially those of the high quality of Minority Report, which has entered the popular consciousness and has become synonymous with, among other things, pervasive technological surveillance -- can operate on many levels simultaneously, serving as a warning on one level, but also serving more broadly as a form of Hollywood mind control, to advance the very agenda of the inevitability of these kinds of technologies that we see being put forward by the IBM spokesperson highlighted in the recent Wired article.  Were there any other speakers who said anything remotely interesting in the Nesta debate on biometrics?  If there were, Wired didn't see fit to report on them whatsoever.