Biometrics in the big house: Surveillance and new revenue
A pair of recent patents and a patent application paint a grim(mer) future for prison inmates and guards. The innovations would both introduce biometric recognition and put a new measure of distance between those in prisons.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has posted a condemnation of the concepts, saying that they represent an unnecessary new layer of surveillance and that private jailers likely will seek to aggressively monetize them at inmates’ expense.
A patent granted in April to Global Tel*Link would give inmates virtual reality hardware through which they could digitally leave their surroundings to visit with people outside the facility, presumably family.
Global Tel*Link is a communications and payment system contractor that sells telephone and video-visit services. It also has a line of tablets on which prisoners can browse digital content including law texts, games, movies and schooling.
A second patent, issued in February to Securus Technologies, describes a portable device with many of the same features of the tablets above with the addition of biometric sensors to monitor the emotional state of device users.
Securus specifically notes that the sensors, connected via RFID tags to a facility’s network, would alert guards if an inmate becomes overly emotional while playing a game, at which point the device could be removed. Most successful computer games engage players by eliciting emotions.
In both cases, the EFF sees a money grab — hardly the first time these and other prison contractors have faced the accusation.
The pending patent application belongs to Global Tel*Link as well, but it seeks intellectual property protection for augmented reality glasses for prison guards.
Facial recognition software would feed guards wearing the glasses data about each inmate visible to the glasses’ camera. The system also would identify potential dangers, like hidden knives, open doors that should be closed and illicit radio signals.
In a Kafkaesque turn, prison managers would be able to track wearers’ locations in real time. The glasses would be capable of monitoring a guard’s own biometrics, in this case, heart rate, voice (including “conversation history”) and body motion.