Surveillance technology has for years been used to identify people just by getting clear pictures of their faces. This kind of technology is becoming more and more of a reality as governments around the world expand their use of AI-enhanced surveillance infrastructure. (Related: Microsoft's AI chatbot goes haywire – gets depressed, threatens to sue and harm detractors.)
Police in the Netherlands use AI to match photos of suspects to criminal databases. In London, the Metropolitan Police use live facial recognition software to match faces to its database. The French government uses AI regularly to track so-called "suspicious behavior."
During the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the use of AI-enhanced surveillance tech spread rapidly. Companies all over the European Union began setting up cameras in their workplaces equipped with AI to check if employees and customers were complying with social distancing regulations. In France, facial recognition technology was used to monitor mask-wearing. Biometric surveillance was being normalized before people's very eyes.
Compiling people's appearances on surveillance databases is not enough. Now, a Silicon Valley startup claims to have developed technology to detect who a person's friends are.
According to Vintra, a San Jose-based AI surveillance and video content analysis company, surveillance tech can be enhanced with the ability to scour thousands of frames of surveillance photos within minutes to figure out who persons of interest regularly associate with. This process uses "co-appearance" and "correlation analysis" software.
Co-appearance technology is already in use by authoritarian regimes, including China. Beijing's technology uses co-appearance searches to spot protesters and dissidents in demonstrations by merging videos with massive databases. Conor Healy, director of government research for the surveillance research group IPVM, noted that Vintra's technology would only be able to act as "a more basic version" of the Chinese government's surveillance infrastructure.
During a video presentation of Vintra's co-appearance technology, CEO Brent Boekestein was expansive about its potential uses.
"You can go up here and create a target, based off of this guy, and then see who this guy's hanging out with," said Boekestein, pointing out a sample target during his company's video presentation. "You can really start building out a network."
While Vintra's technology is still being developed, the company already has several notable clients, including the police departments of Kent, Washington, Lincoln, Nebraska and Sacramento, and the sheriff's office of Lee County, Florida.
In the federal government, the Internal Revenue Service admitted to using Vintra software "to more efficiently review lengthy video footage for evidence while conducting criminal investigations." This statement refused to acknowledge or deny whether the agency was using co-appearance technology.
In the private sector, Vintra's website claims to have partnerships with the Silicon Valley Bank, the Security Industry Association, market research company Frost & Sullivan, football team San Francisco 49ers and Big Pharma company Moderna.
Learn more about surveillance programs and surveillance technology at Surveillance.news.
Watch this clip from "Redacted with Clayton Morris" as he discusses how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were caught tracking unvaccinated Americans using new surveillance technology.