Is the GCSB taking our picture, too?


More revelations from the trove Snowden documents show that the NSA is capturing roughly 55,000 portrait-quality photographs of people from the internet everyday.

The powerpoint presentation about this programme includes New Zealand as a recipient of the information, marked with the header & footer ‘TOP SECRET//REL to USA, AUS, CAN, GBR, NZL’

The document indicates that a whole range of pictures – from email attachments, social media, videoconferences (like skype), and picture text (pixts) are able to be captured by the NSA and stored in a massive searchable database. These images are linked up with loads of other personal private data to “track, exploit and identify targets of interest.”

Again, the questions arise – as they have from the very beginning of the Snowden saga – how much of this data does the GCSB have access to, how many of these programmes is the GCSB using and for what purpose?

We know that other ‘intelligence’ agencies such as the NZ Police are already using facial recognition software and mining social media in order to collect personal private data about people across the country-and potentially well beyond NZ’s borders. In fact, the NZ police will be well advanced in their use of facial recognition software – a 2006 news report says that a new image application was being developed to work alongside the National Intelligence Application (the main police database) and would include facial recognition capability.

Facial recognition software has become so widespread that even the NZ Lotteries Commission has trialled facial recognition software – albeit for commercial, not so-called ‘security’ purposes. They used software to detect when people looked at their signs and as an ‘audience measuring tool’

According to Glen Cameron, an NEC, Wellington based, facial recognition
expert covering Australasia, the technology has rapidly advanced and
is in a completely different class of sophistication than the systems of just a
few years ago.

The fact that there are huge databases of images of millions of people being assembled by the Five Eyes security agencies and the wider security-intelligence apparatus should be a grave concern. Images, along with every other piece of data collected about us are private personal information. The State’s tiresome refrain of ‘national security’ as its justification is a ruse for greater social control.


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