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Western nations not as focused on offensive/defensive use of face biometrics

Western nations not as focused on offensive/defensive use of face biometrics

Spies of the Western democracies are being hemmed in by adversaries’ biometric surveillance while their governments are being outspent and out-innovated in biometrics, if a pair of recent articles are to be believed.

The Wall Street Journal this week wrote about how difficult it is for even elite intelligence officers to operate in the shadows (subscription). The account cites examples of espionage assignments recorded with what seems like little effort.

The first involved agents from Israel’s Mossad spy service who were sent in 2010 to kill a Palestinian militant in Dubai. Careful as the team was, it was identified at every stage of the (successful) attack.

Seven years later, a hotel’s security camera captured a meeting between the half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and someone suspected of being a United States spy. Days later Kim’s relative was assassinated.

Any nation sufficiently adept at AI, including facial recognition, can track agents, of course. But government officials who discussed with the Journal how the situation is affecting intelligence operations said it is a pervasive concern for the Central Intelligence Agency.

It apparently is not all gloom among Washington’s spooks, however. The paper talked to some sources familiar with the CIA and its history of innovation who express optimism that digital and human spycraft will continue to evolve, albeit for all nations.

The second article more or less picks up from there. Al Jazeera got an advanced breakdown of a speech to be given by Richard Moore, head of the United Kingdom’s foreign intelligence agency, MI6.

It is an interesting read in that it quotes the head of a legendary intelligence agency saying that the West is increasingly at a disadvantage with Russia and China. Both nations, according to Al Jazeera’s reading of the summary, are investing in biometrics and AI with an intensity comparable to that of the Space Race from the 1950s through 1970s.

China and Russia are developing a mastery of AI and biometrics recognition very rapidly, perhaps faster than the West is. Of the two, China is assumed to be the bigger threat.

Moore thinks the West has to work more with industry than it does now, according to the article. The typical relationship for intelligence and weapons development in the U.S. (when the government goes outside its own considerable R&D infrastructure) is between the Defense Department and universities.

Moore might be correct, but it is an inopportune time for his argument. Vocal, organized opponents to AI-aided surveillance are affecting related policies in government, education and business. Public opinion, meanwhile, has vacillated.

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