Which would you choose? Safety or privacy?

The Earth never stops rotating as news media never stops releasing astounding content, at least during the past 10 days.

US-China trade talk, Alabama banned nearly all abortions, President Trump proposed immigration plan favoring skills over family ties, sanction on Iran metal … Then comes the only news that I like — San Francisco banned facial recognition technology to be used by police and other government departments.

This made me think of a video I watched on China social platform WeChat, the Chinese form of Facebook. A young police officer wearing a pair of special glasses, stands in front of a subway exit, there are hundreds of people poured out from it every few minutes. He stares at the passengers’ faces, instantly the person’s ID number shown, then connected with the database of police bureau. If he/she turned out to be a suspect at large, the action will be triggered.

For a misdemeanor such as running the red light, the facial recognition skill at intersection catches the picture, name and home address of the guy on a huge LED monitor at the intersection within 10 seconds. The embarrassment works.

The latest news is Chinese authorities have begun deploying a new surveillance tool, “gait recognition” software that uses people’s body shapes and how they walk to identify them, even when their faces are hidden from cameras. The accuracy is 99.7%. China is very proud of the advanced technology being implemented as it improved efficiency of municipal management and make the city much safer.

I asked my home folks about their feeling toward being scanned, one said, “We are good innocent people, have nothing to hide from the government. We are better off by living in a safe society.”

When I told them the same technology was banned by San Francisco, they were bewildered. “Do I have a choice?” The other shrugged.

Chinese people are benefited with centralized government which is super efficient in big action that requires resources and monotone consent. Not only once the visitors from China laughed at “the inefficiency of western democracy” for its forever long discussion and voting process, lead to nothing be done.

When they come to Columbus and Seymour from Indy airport, they can hardly avoid I-65, the highway that has been under construction for I-could-not-remember how long. They sniffed and said the same project will only take a few weeks in China. Few of my home folks would think — when the government become so powerful and stretched out to every corner of individual’s life, it’s time to be cautious. Not given choice to vote or veto, they would only end up with a shrug.

The technologies are intruding in people’s daily life, this is not only happening in China. USPS offered a free service with a simple sign up — they email you the scanned image of your letters on daily basis. It’s said the better service is coming, which will not only scan the envelope but also the content. The convenience is the subscriber would know if an important letter has been delivered when he/she is away from home. How comfortable will you feel about your mails and bills are being scanned and stored at USPS’s database?

Government guarded with new technologies is becoming exponentially powerful the beast roaring to be out of the cage. My folks rarely thought this way: Good innocent people are not deserved to be scanned at first place.

Luckily San Francisco voted to shut the cage at least for now. They set a precedence for other states. Safety versus Privacy — What would you choose?

Song Li lives in Seymour and is a member of the Seymour Toastmaster Club. Send comments to [email protected].