NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, July 2nd, 2020

Tim Eyman says he’s worried about facial recognition. So why won’t he wear a mask?

Yes­ter­day, dis­hon­est ini­tia­tive pitch­man turned Repub­li­can guber­na­to­r­i­al can­di­date Tim Eyman held the lat­est in a series of pop up events intend­ed to gen­er­ate media cov­er­age for his can­di­da­cy, this time in the City of SeaT­ac.

How­ev­er, amaz­ing­ly, rather than serv­ing up anoth­er plate full of dis­hon­est anti-tax pro­pa­gan­da, Eyman tack­led the top­ic of facial recog­ni­tion. In a sub­se­quent email to his fans, he cir­cu­lat­ed a copy of his speech on the sub­ject which lays out his views in detail. Here’s the first few para­graphs from his remarks:

This tech­nol­o­gy has been much-hyped by the press and tech com­pa­nies. Gov­ern­ments and the secu­ri­ty con­trac­tors that prof­it from gov­ern­ment and fund the cam­paigns of entrenched politi­cians are sali­vat­ing at the chance to cre­ate a tril­lion-dol­lar indus­try based on the unique­ness of your face.

We have been fac­ing omi­nous prospects of a world resem­bling the movie Minor­i­ty Report or rem­i­nis­cent of the ter­ri­fy­ing Social Cred­it scheme in Chi­na. Police depart­ments all over the coun­try have been test­ing or using facial recog­ni­tion in body cam­eras.

Most of America’s major air­ports, includ­ing SeaT­ac Inter­na­tion­al, are slat­ed to wide­ly use the tech­nol­o­gy by next year. But start­ing last year, sev­er­al cities across the coun­try banned it alto­geth­er, includ­ing San Fran­cis­co, Boston, Oak­land and oth­ers. Efforts are ongo­ing in Port­land and even the entire state of Cal­i­for­nia to ban it too.

More recent­ly, we have seen top devel­op­ers of facial recog­ni­tion tech — IBM, Ama­zon and last­ly Microsoft — back off their plans to flood police depart­ments around the U.S. with this tech­nol­o­gy. Also, the Euro­pean Union and even mem­bers of the U.S. Con­gress intro­duced pro­pos­als to ban facial recog­ni­tion from being used by gov­ern­ment.

I’ve been read­ing Eyman emails for near­ly twen­ty years and it’s refresh­ing to final­ly get one that address­es a top­ic oth­er than the fund­ing of our state’s essen­tial pub­lic ser­vices, which Eyman is bizarrely obsessed with destroy­ing.

My team and I rarely agree with Tim Eyman about any­thing, but we’re glad to see Tim take a posi­tion that mir­rors one of our own for a change.

At NPI, we are both strong advo­cates for pri­va­cy as well as cyber­se­cu­ri­ty enthu­si­asts, and have been since NPI’s incep­tion in 2003. We sup­port net neu­tral­i­ty, copy­left, the right to repair, and unfet­tered access to strong encryp­tion. And we oppose schemes to allow inter­net vot­ing and online sig­na­ture gath­er­ing. We’re also total­ly opposed to the use of facial recog­ni­tion tech­nol­o­gy by gov­ern­ments and the pri­vate sec­tor on both pri­va­cy and secu­ri­ty grounds.

We’re very glad to hear that Tim Eyman agrees that the use of facial recog­ni­tion tech­nol­o­gy is a bad idea. But, hav­ing read Tim’s speech in full, I’m left won­der­ing why Tim has also tak­en the view that mask-wear­ing is akin to tyran­ny giv­en that masks present a chal­lenge to facial recog­ni­tion tech­nol­o­gy.

“Jay Inslee just jumped the shark by man­dat­ing every­one always wear masks,” Eyman fumed in a June 24th email, assur­ing his fan club that when he’s gov­er­nor (which is nev­er going to hap­pen), no one will be required to wear masks.

Of course, Gov­er­nor Inslee’s direc­tive does­n’t require that peo­ple wear masks all the time, only while out in pub­lic. And the impe­tus for the direc­tive, iron­i­cal­ly, is the desire of peo­ple like Tim Eyman and his fan club to con­gre­gate in pub­lic rather than stay­ing at home and prac­tic­ing phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing.

The sci­ence is clear: mask wear­ing is cru­cial to reduc­ing the spread of COVID-19 when peo­ple are in close phys­i­cal prox­im­i­ty to each oth­er. That’s why every­one should be wear­ing a mask when they’re out in pub­lic. Inslee’s direc­tive should not have been nec­es­sary. But it was nec­es­sary because peo­ple like Tim Eyman and Don­ald Trump have been set­ting a bad exam­ple by refus­ing to wear masks.

If Trump had direct­ed his fol­low­ers to wear masks for their own pro­tec­tion sev­er­al weeks ago, they would have obe­di­ent­ly done so with­out ques­tion, and we would­n’t have heard any of this non­sense about tyran­ny.

Instead, right wing Repub­li­cans all over this coun­try, tak­ing their cues from Trump, have adopt­ed the idi­ot­ic posi­tion that putting a piece of cloth on one’s face to pro­tect one­self from an extreme­ly infec­tious virus is a bad thing.

Hilar­i­ous­ly, Trump is now try­ing to have it both ways.

Speak­ing to Fox Busi­ness Net­work on Wednes­day, Mr Trump said: “I’m all for masks.”

When asked whether he would wear one, the pres­i­dent said: “If I were in a tight sit­u­a­tion with peo­ple I would, absolute­ly.”

He added that peo­ple have seen him wear­ing one before.

Mr. Trump said he would have “no prob­lem” with wear­ing a mask pub­licly and that he “sort of liked” how he looked with one on, liken­ing him­self to the Lone Ranger, a fic­tion­al masked hero who with his Native Amer­i­can friend, Ton­to, fought out­laws in the Amer­i­can Old West.

(Of course, the kind of mask worn by the Lone Ranger would­n’t offer any pro­tec­tion against SARS-CoV­‑2, but Trump’s igno­rance is to be expect­ed.)

Before the nov­el coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic, walk­ing around while wear­ing a face mask could have attract­ed unwant­ed atten­tion.

But now, due to the cir­cum­stances we’re in, you can pro­tect both your health and your pri­va­cy by wear­ing a mask, and not turn any heads.

Face masks have already been shown to be effec­tive at pre­vent­ing some facial recog­ni­tion sys­tems from work­ing prop­er­ly, includ­ing the sys­tems that Google and Apple have devel­oped for unlock­ing Android devices and iPhones.

While tech­nol­o­gy com­pa­nies are rac­ing to adapt their facial recog­ni­tion tech to account for wide­spread mask wear­ing, the use of sun­glass­es in con­junc­tion with a mask will like­ly remain an effec­tive way to frus­trate facial recog­ni­tion tech­nol­o­gy.

Any true lib­er­tar­i­an inter­est­ed in resist­ing mass sur­veil­lance should be over­joyed that it’s now social­ly accept­able to wear a mask in pub­lic and move about our built envi­ron­ment more anony­mous­ly, includ­ing while shop­ping.

Masks can be a great form of indi­vid­ual expres­sion, as well, anoth­er con­cept that lib­er­tar­i­ans and peo­ple with a lib­er­tar­i­an streak often empha­size in their pol­i­tics.

So, Tim… if you ever get around to read­ing this post, I hope you’ll take what I’ve said to heart. Wear a face mask when in pub­lic.

Don’t do it because our gov­er­nor direct­ed you to. Do it because you care about your­self and the well-being of the peo­ple around you, like your kids. And do it because you val­ue your pri­va­cy and want to resist mass sur­veil­lance.

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2 Comments

  1. Masks will not help hide who you are.

    Ever heard of a peri­oc­u­lar recog­ni­tion sys­tem? This form of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion uses only the eyes and eye­brows to iden­ti­fy a per­son.

    Actu­al­ly, they don’t even need to use any facial fea­tures to rec­og­nize you.

    There’s already soft­ware that can iden­ti­fy you by your gait (how you walk) or sil­hou­ette.

    # by Michael Tillman :: July 5th, 2020 at 2:44 AM
    • Incor­rect: Masks can and do help pro­tect a per­son­’s anonymi­ty; this is pre­cise­ly why pro­test­ers wear them at protests.

      Some masks are designed to obscure almost all of a per­son­’s face while oth­ers are designed to cov­er the nose and mouth. The lat­ter kind, used in con­junc­tion with a decent pair of sun­glass­es, can frus­trate facial recog­ni­tion sys­tems, as I wrote above. (Appar­ent­ly, you missed that part.)

      There isn’t a sure­fire way to pre­vent one­self from ever being rec­og­nized while out in pub­lic and my post does not argue there is.

      # by Andrew Villeneuve :: July 5th, 2020 at 11:42 AM