Facial recognition software is now one of the invaluable tools employed by security agencies and law enforcers. It is used in airports and other highly secure facilities and relied on by the police to aid in criminal investigations. It is even present in most smartphones.
However, lately, there have been growing concerns with what privacy advocates have termed the “dangerously irresponsible” use of the technology. Specialists are worried about the possibility of constant surveillance of the citizens and are frustrated about the usage of the technology without the consent of the public. In the U.S., for instance, facial recognition has already been banned at the city level in San Francisco and Somerville.
Watch this video about privacy concerns about facial recognition technology:
A Very Useful Tool
There is no questioning the usefulness of facial recognition software, especially when establishing a person’s identity. This feature, for example, is incredibly valuable in helping law enforcers as they investigate a crime. But it is also just as useful in detecting and preventing criminal activities even before they happen, alerting police of the presence of people that may be on watchlists. For these same reasons, security service providers rely on facial recognition to look after vital facilities such as airports, government offices, fuel refineries, power plants, water plants, and such.
But beyond the ability to track criminals, the technology can also potentially benefit other areas. For instance, it can be used to find missing persons and identify symptoms of diseases. The retail sector is studying how to employ facial recognition to create better user experiences for customers. Payment gateway solution providers in turn are exploring the technology to speed up both online and offline payment processes.
But despite the value that facial recognition offers, why are there calls to ban the technology?
The Case against Facial Recognition
It appears that the main contention against facial recognition revolves around the lack of regulations governing its use. This shortcoming supposedly curtails some of the fundamental human liberties. While our generation has gotten used to being constantly photographed, facial recognition strips away the anonymity that insulates us.
The Australian Privacy Foundation is currently opposing the national government’s initiatives to launch a facial recognition database. The group fears that the proposed system, alongside others that collect facial data, including closed-circuit television (CCTV), is prone to abuse. They claim that automated and real-time surveillance of public spaces is highly invasive. In China, the technology is used to arrest jaywalkers. In the U.K., the police recently fined a man for covering his face to avoid being detected by surveillance cameras.
There are issues concerning the accuracy of the technology as well. Numerous studies have proven that facial recognition algorithms are inaccurate when identifying people of color. This argument raised fears that false positives can lead to wrongful arrests.
While facial recognition promises wonderful things, people still fear that it can be used for evil purposes. Concerns against its use are valid, and we have seen real-world examples illustrate this point. At the same time, the technology is undoubtedly vital to keeping the world safe. Issues about its accuracy, however, if unaddressed, can be genuinely frightening for ethnic minorities.
Developers of facial recognition software can take the criticisms as an opportunity to improve on the technology’s current weaknesses. This move is especially critical in the case of people of color and ethnic backgrounds who may feel that the technology is skewed against them. At the same time, government institutions and law enforcement agencies can take a proactive stance to work toward more balanced regulation of the technology’s use.
So should facial recognition be banned? Well, the truth is, the technology has proven its worth. It would be a shame to lose such a valuable tool in the war against crime and terrorism simply because its capabilities and limitations are not well understood. However, it is crucial to make sure that facial recognition is also properly regulated, and that its inappropriate uses are prevented.