CCTV + Lip-Reading Software = Even Less Privacy, Even More Surveillance

from the HAL-would-be-proud dept

Techdirt has written a number of stories about facial recognition software being paired with CCTV cameras in public and private places. As the hardware gets cheaper and more powerful, and the algorithms underlying recognition become more reliable, it’s likely that the technology will be deployed even more routinely. But if you think loss of public anonymity is the end of your troubles, you might like to think again:

Lip-reading CCTV software could soon be used to capture unsuspecting customer’s private conversations about products and services as they browse in high street stores.

Security experts say the technology will offer companies the chance to collect more “honest” market research but privacy campaigners have described the proposals as “creepy” and “completely irresponsible”.

That story from the Sunday Herald in Scotland focuses on the commercial “opportunities” this technology offers. It’s easy to imagine the future scenarios as shop assistants are primed to descend upon people who speak favorably about goods on sale, or who express a wish for something that is not immediately visible to them. But even more troubling are the non-commercial uses, for example when applied to CCTV feeds supposedly for “security” purposes.

How companies and law enforcement use CCTV+lip-reading software will presumably be subject to legislation, either existing or introduced specially. But given the lax standards for digital surveillance, and the apparent presumption by many state agencies that they can listen to anything they are able to grab, it would be na&iumlve to think they won’t deploy this technology as much as they can. In fact, they probably already have.

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Comments on “CCTV + Lip-Reading Software = Even Less Privacy, Even More Surveillance”

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Machin Shin says:

Re: Re:

I was just thinking “Oh great, next thing you know there will be the ‘hacker lip balm'”

I guess wearing a surgical mask is much easier than coming up with some other way to trick it. Although part of me still wants to see the guy walking around with bright glittery lipstick on to mess with the cameras.

MyNameHere (profile) says:

Let’s actually break this story down to it’s parts, shall we? Let’s run it against against non-tech versions of the same thing to see what it really means.

First and foremost, anyone practiced in the art of lip reading can figure out what you are saying. So nothing new under the sun here. It’s been going on for centuries, from what I gather.

CCTV? Been around for a very long time, and it’s really only a technology improvement over an observant police officer. Again, nothing new under the sun, police men (and women) have stood on the corner watching things for a very long time indeed.

So what we in fact have here isn’t anything new except for “technology allows it / does it faster / better / more”. Yet, it has been a standard argument around these parts of years that (as an example) piracy is something you have to live with because technology allows it. You get the good with the bad, right?

It’s all of the benefits of technology, and all it’s doing is what was already done, just an a much higher volume and potential.

See the “IoT spying” story for more. Basically, you give up more about yourself willingly than anyone will scoop off of you in this manner. Worry about the big stuff, not the details!

Ninja (profile) says:

A while back they started getting lip-reading experts to find out what soccer players, coaches and judges/arbiters were saying during the match. Nowadays they don’t bother because everybody covers their mouths with their hands when they are going to speak with somebody in the field. Except of course when they are shouting profanities.

We should take the cue.

DannyB (profile) says:

Bad Lip Reading

If you look on YouTube for Bad Lip Reading, you can find some comically hilarious results. You can clearly see the video of the person, often a famous or well known person, with their lips moving. The audio is the “bad lip reading” person saying something completely different, that just happens to fit perfectly with the video of the person’s mouth and lips.

If software lip reading is used against someone, they could argue that they said something different.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Why not record audio?

If you want to spy on everyone’s conversations, microphones would be the
> obvious way. Is this some kind of workaround because recording audio would
> be illegal?

Yep. In many states, consent of both parties– the recorder and the recordee must be obtained before audio can be captured legally. (That’s why you get all those annoying disclaimers about “this call may be recorded for quality control purposes” when you phone a business. They’re giving you the chance to decline consent and hang up if you don’t want to be recorded.)

But those laws don’t apply to video so long as there’s no audio captured at the same time. This system doesn’t record audio– the computer reads the video images of lips moving– so it gives all the benefit of an audio recording with none of the legal liability.

Of course, most people move around when they talk, so the odds are you’ll only get an incomplete conversation as a person’s lips turn away from the camera and/or the person they’re talking to has their back to the camera.

TRX302 (profile) says:

Ain’t skeered…

After many years I finally bought hearing aids. After several sessions of tuning with the audiologist, I realized that the continuing problem wasn’t my hearing, which is now fine, but that most people can’t speak intelligible English.

They speak in sentence fragments, use wrong words, use wrong vowels in words, mispronounce words, omit words, bark random syllables, or just make a barely-modulated whine. And now that I can hear surrounding conversations, a surprising amount consists of “eh?” and “what?”

If “they” actually have software that can make sense of that gibberish, I’d be interested in buying a copy…

PaulT (profile) says:

“It’s easy to imagine the future scenarios as shop assistants are primed to descend upon people who speak favorably about goods on sale, or who express a wish for something that is not immediately visible to them”

Well, that would be one more reason not to go shopping in a brick & mortar store. I avoid sale assistants like the plague they are at the best of times, I don’t need them having more reason to come and bother me.

Part of me also wonders how this kind of technology differentiates between languages. I can imagine that if I’m in a store in UK with a Spanish friend and we switch languages during the conversation, as we often do, that would either raise red flags or have the reader think we said something we didn’t.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

There are a number of states where audio recording is illegal in a wide
> variety of situations. Automated lip-reading isn’t audio, but may violate the
> intent of those laws…

Perhaps, but you can’t be convicted for violating the intent of a law. You can only be convicted for violating the law. And if the law says ‘audio’, then this sort of thing doesn’t qualify, even if the results are what the law was trying to avoid.

The solution is for the legislature to amend the law to include lip-reading of video, whether automated or done by human, to law requiring two-party consent.

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