Oh, my gosh,  the ominous warning on the door of Courtenay’s Avalanche Bar and Grille seems to say who it will share its images of your face-in-a-beer with but doesn’t say the most important part, who won’t they share it with for what purposes.

While such digital surveillance may seem a small ripple in a massive tidal wave of privacy invasion that is now going on at all levels of our social, political, business lives, the message within the message of such pervasive surveillance makes the Orwellian idea of “Ownlife”– an inherently suspicious/ subversive tendency to value privacy–seem like incredibly accurate prophecy .

Amazon.com is, now, marketing a new Facial Recognition Technology, Rekognition,  that will allow near continuous monitoring of anyone doing anything anywhere. Recognition can identify, analyze, track whole crowds of people in real time and compare those survelied upon with millions of names/faces –accessing even ever more details of the—once—private lives of whole populations.

So far facial recognition efforts fall far short of perfect with one study finding  93% false positive identifications though the information was being used for prosecution/litigation purposes.

Imagine if someone were, in person, following others around (stalking them) writing down every move they make. Would we be so happy with that kind of invasive personal surveillance? How can we so easily give up to a spying computer code the personal liberties we, otherwise, seem to cherish so deeply?

Interestingly, our press–relatively quiet about this massive erosion of privacy in western/capitalist countries–does seem to speak up about the loss of privacy in an “authoritarian” state like China.

Yet, it is our western digital giant Google that has, recently/ominously dropped its defining moto, “Don’t be evil” as it contracts with the Pentagon to provide more effective facial recognition for the agency’s killer drone program and world-wide surveillance of everything that moves.

While there seems to be resistance to the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica  mining of personal information for political purposes, the commercial exploitation of personal information is getting little coverage in a public discussion that doesn’t seem to stray from the narrow focus on politically exploitable private information. What the Cambridge Anaylitica scandal demonstrates is that just about all information is politically exploitable. Any information the corporate world can gleam and store is politically and commercially exploitable—simply because it is information about individuals and information about individuals can help computer programs to use this personal information to—as Cambridge Anaylitica demonstrates—design-true or false (it didn’t matter which)information to manipulate voters/consumers/citizens. So our right to privacy (a private/informed life) daily erodes away, not by arrests and physical intimidation, but by the ever/rapidly advancing of the surveillance state and the science of perception manipulation through fake news and message control.

How will we ever arrive at the social consensus to make important changes like acting to turn back global warming, the advancement of social justice or the rethinking of our outdated/planet killing economic system unless we can—first of all—find a way to curb the power of technology to surveil individuals and manipulate perceptions?

Apparently this kind of digital spying on individuals is considerably more advanced in numerous Vancouver pubs and night life venues.  Sometimes it is sold as a wonderful thing where the screens are clickable on the internet and you can see who is at a particular venue before you arrive.  Hummm!

The Avalanche’s foray into digital surveillance seems a minor incursion into the privacy of those going out for a beer in Courtenay, yet it feels eerily similar to the leading edge of an advancing tide that could entirely remake the foreshore of what is public and what is private information in the Comox Valley.

Norm Reynolds