Science fiction is fun to watch on the screen but living it, probably not so much. As if government snooping was not bad enough, soon we can spy on each other. Google Glass, futuristic eyeglasses that contain a built-in computer, enables the wearer to secretly record everything around him. If someone doesn't devise legal or technological protections against such electronic intrusions, what's left of privacy soon will go the way of the buggy whip and the singing telegram.
Google co-founder Sergey Brin introduced Google's edgy optical gimmick in 2012. Resembling eyewear, it projects a heads-up display on the lens that can be activated by a simple voice command or the casual tap of a finger. Glass provides Internet access, and video and snapshot capability to which smartphone users are accustomed. While a phone must be held toward its target, Glass enables a wearer to record what he sees and hears surreptitiously. A developmental model is available to testers for $1,500, and a less-expensive consumer model is expected to go on sale later this year.
Eight members of Congress sent a letter to Google CEO Larry Page last month asking for answers to privacy questions raised by the new wearable computer. How would Google prevent the gathering of data from non-users without their consent, regardless of whether the company intended to store the data? Would the glasses include facial-recognition technology to allow users to identify passersby at once and collect sensitive personal information? Some nightclubs and bars have already banned the device, lest patrons having too much fun be captured in something to go viral.
Privacy commissioners from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Switzerland and Israel raised similar privacy questions in a June 18 letter to Mr. Page. They asked for a demonstration of Glass' capabilities and an opportunity to test the product themselves. The search giant promised that it won't incorporate facial recognition "without having strong privacy protections in place."
Such assurances may not relieve the public's fear that everyone and his Big Brother is watching. Who would trust Big Brother? The Obama administration has smashed existing privacy barriers with the use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to enable the National Security Agency to harvest the phone and Internet use of all 314 million Americans. Tapping into the video feeds of Glass users would be the next logical step.
With no help from Congress, Americans will find ways to be left alone. A New York artist has designed a line of reflective apparel, including hoodies, scarves and capes, sort of like a chador, to shield wearers from prying cameras. That's extreme, but so is gawking.
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