October 24, 2020

The Impact of Facial Recognition on the Fundamental Right to Privacy

Chris Jones at TurnonVPN.org considers the growing use of facial recognition around the world and the concerns it raises for privacy

Facial recognition is a biometric technology used to identify, recognize, and authenticate individuals by comparing their distinct facial features to photos or videos within a database. Facial recognition has been gaining traction in different parts of the world, with countries such as China and the United States leading in the widespread adoption of the technology. Outside of government, facial recognition technology is used widely in the smartphone industry, social media, airports, venues, and marketing.

Despite its potential benefits in areas such as security, healthcare, retail, etc., the widespread adoption of facial recognition technology is marred by controversy. Most of the issues arise from the use of facial recognition technology in public spaces. Here are some of the biggest concerns facing the use of facial recognition technology.

 

Violation of the Right to Privacy

Facial recognition software can be used to identify a person based on just a photo or a video of their face, which significantly improves the power of surveillance. The surveillance capability of facial recognition tech poses the biggest challenge to its widespread adoption and growth. Facial recognition systems can lead to intrusion of privacy.

The problem with facial recognition technology is that unlike other biometric technologies, it can be used in a manner that does not require the participation, consent, or even the knowledge of the subject. Those against the use of facial recognition systems on public spaces cite the fundamental right to privacy.

The use of facial recognition technology to spy on unsuspecting people without their consent amounts to the violation of their right to privacy. The adverse effects of the use of facial recognition technology for mass surveillance on society are apparent in China and Hongkong. There are spirited backlash against facial recognition in the US, with the city of San Francisco being the first major city to ban the use of facial recognition by law enforcement.

 

Data Breaches

Facial recognition systems and databases are not hacker-proof. Biometric data collected by the government can be stolen by cybercriminals as it happened with the CBP database. Cybercriminals hacked into US Customs and Border Patrol and made away with data such as passport and visa images, license plates, and other sensitive information.

 

Not Accurate

Ideally, accuracy should not be a problem when working with facial recognition systems. In an ideal situation, facial recognition software will be identifying and authenticating individuals from and repository of high-resolution images. However, sometimes these systems have to work with poor quality videos and images and often become inaccurate.

 

Racial and Gender Bias

Many studies have shown that the technology is inaccurate when it comes to recognizing people of colour, especially African American women. Facial recognition systems tend to misidentify people with darker skin in general. Allowing the use of this technology in law enforcement can lead to wrongful arrests and convictions, introducing new challenges in an already bad situation.

 

Racial Profiling

Facial recognition technology can be used as a weapon against minority groups in society. It has been reported that the Chinese Communist Party uses facial recognition technology to clamp down on minority Muslim Uighurs in the country. In Israel, authorities have been using facial recognition technology to track down Palestinians deep inside West Bank.

 

Lack of Clear Regulation

At the moment, there’s no clear regulation pertaining to the use of facial recognition technology. The general lack of a regulatory framework when it comes to the use of the technology is a major cause of worry among the general public. Both the government — through various agencies such as the FBI, CIA, ICE, etc.  — and private companies can abuse facial recognition technology and get away with it.

One of the fastest-growing technologies in the world, facial recognition technology uses unique facial characteristics to identify and authenticate individuals. Facial recognition technology has a lot of potential, but the widespread adoption of the technology is plagued with controversy. Due to its surveillance capabilities, potential for abuse, many people are apprehensive of the application of the technology in security and law enforcement.