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Conversazioni Fittizie: Malaysian leaders discuss SanFran's ban on facial recognition by government

Peter Lee

It's not fake news. it's false conversations and it's satire.

As California's San Francisco's Board of Supervisors passes a law to ban the use of facial recognition by law enforcement and other agencies operating within the city. The news reached an incredulous Malaysian Transport Minister who is in the process of implementing a low-tech solution - blacked out car windows which will defeat visual surveillance methods.

Anthony Loke, Transport Minister, Malaysia (AL): So the San Franciscans want to stop the police spotting and identifying faces using cameras?

Tun Dr Mohamed Mahathid, Prime Minister, Malaysia: "they do like to make things complicated, don't they?"

AL: we've achieved that this week with no cost to the government, no enforcement costs by government and no complicated laws to monitor what enforcement agencies are up to

Tun Mahathir: They laugh at us but they are obsessed with making ever more difficult to enforce and monitor law that just increases their legal expenses in a country that says it can't afford proper healthcare.

AL: also, our solution is dual purpose because of the climate. You'd think California would have the same things to bother about.

Tun Mahathir: San Francisco isn't Los Angeles. It's not as hot and it's not as sunny. But I'm sure that our solution would help.

AL: so the idea is that people should be able to do as they please in their cars with no one watching. They can go dogging

Tun Mahathir: I don't think we should appear to encourage that

AL: they can transport guns or drugs in the back seat of their cars: no need to hide them in the boot, lah

Tun Mahathir: We don't want to encourage that, either

AL: they can move trafficked people and prostitutes between venues and the police will never know

Tun Mathathir: The new fully dark windows won't include the windscreen so traffic light cameras will still be able to see in

AL: but only into the front seat. The back window and rear side windows will be almost completely obscured and, at night, impossible to see through unless there is a light inside. The front side windows must be less tinted, too.

Tun Mahathir: Your department wanted this blacked-out-windows thing and even when the police said they didn't like it, you said we should press ahead.

AL: The people want it. They say that the sun is too bright and they need to black out the windows to keep their cars cool inside.

Tun Mahathir: How many cars do not have aircon? Does the black film keep the car cool or does it get hot and trap heat inside? Why are we allowing total blackout instead of insisting on the use of anti UV and anti Infra Red film that allows most of the light to pass, both ways?

AL: because it's more expensive. If we allow black-out everyone can have it; if we insist on near-clear film, many poor people won't be able to afford it and then they will blame us saying we are not helping the masses.

Tun Mahathir: then that's a case for not allowing anyone to have anything beyond the standard tint that e.g. European manufacturers have and they have bright sunlight for far more hours each day in summer than we do at any time of the year. And what about those big seven seater MPVs: they can carry lots of stuff we should know about.

AL: But a poll in The Star says that two thirds of readers supports the fully dark windows. And when you think of it, it's only like having a van.

Tun Mahathir: we have problem with foreign extremists coming here under the guise of being students or marrying local women and setting up home while they plot. We are trying hard to locate and remove them and we've found dozens over the past five years. We've also found domestic extremists and taken them off the streets. One of the things is that, once identified, they find it difficult to move around. This move helps them and it doesn't help us.

AL: There are those that think they need dark windows, even the windscreen, for security reasons.

Tun M: why? We already have far too many people living in gated communities with some even trying to block police patrols from entering; we have people taking the law into their own hands and, as they term it, "raiding" pubs and clubs; we need to make people realise they are safer than they think, not allow mass paranoia to develop

AL: but the people want it

Tun M: the people want all kinds of things. San Francisco is going too far, facial recognition has helped catch criminals all over the world. It allows law enforcement agencies to build up intelligence over who is associating with whom. The end result is that the world is a safer place. Can you assure me that, ignoring the risk of accident because drivers won't be able to see out especially in the rain and in the dark, that we are not making Malaysia a less safe place by allowing people carve out a private space in a public place?

AL: It's a balancing act. Perhaps we should put a sunset provision on it: we'll try it for, say, five years. Then we can see the results.

Tun M: that doesn't work - we won't know what we don't know. All we can say is that the police found x trafficked girls, y kilos of dada or z weapons. Those supporting the black-outs will say "see, you found all of this despite the windows being blacked out so your fears were not justified. That would ensure we never change it back.

AL: well, we've announced it now, the police have eventually given up their objections.

Tun M: well, at least we aren't in San Franscisco. We've still got surveillance cameras and facial recognition.

AL: yes, well, about that.. let's talk about traffic light cameras....


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