The Moral Quandary Around Govts Using Facial Recognition

The Moral Quandary Around Govts Using Facial Recognition

Facial recognition technology has been around from Facebook’s photo tagging and identification to Apple’s Face ID feature. The unwarranted monitoring of citizens through the use of face recognition software is on the rise in the United States and it is seen as a serious threat to citizens’ privacy.

Crux of the Matter

Facial recognition technology provides a sophisticated surveillance technique that can be more accurate than the human eye which is now expanding at an explosive rate. Tech giants like IBM, Microsoft, and Amazon have invested heavily to develop these systems with an aim to enhance public safety as they battle to lead in a key emerging business.

Across the USA, the rise of the use of this technology to identify people by matching unique characteristics of their facial patterns to databases of images has sparked controversies and debates.

In India, the Uttar Pradesh government used public surveillance cameras to identify miscreants of the violence that began in Delhi. New Delhi is also among the top cities in India with a high number of CCTVs. According to some estimates, 200 mn CCTVs of Skynet have been installed in Mainland China. Skynet is reportedly one of the world’s largest surveillance agencies using FRT. Miscreants in 2011 London Riots were traced using CCTVs – there is 1 CCTV for every 14 people according to some estimates.

How Does It Work?
Facial recognition technology (FRT) creates a template of the target’s facial image and compares the template to photographs of preexisting images of a known face. The known photographs are found from driving license databases, government identification records, or social media accounts. Apart from its numerous other uses, it has the potential to be a useful tool in tackling crime rates by identifying criminals.

Growing Concerns
Privacy advocates have raised concerns on its use and misuse by US law enforcement agencies. US law enforcement agencies in several states like Texas, Florida and Illinois have been using FRT to scan photos of individuals without their consent using different databases to identify and arrest individuals at protests.

Apart from privacy, it is been long argued that use of FRT could lead to the wrongful arrests of people who bear only a resemblance to a video image. Recently, in the nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd and subsequent protests, the enforcement agencies were seen to use FRT to identify miscreants.

Summachar’s Coverage: History of Racism in US

Moreover, recent studies have shown that facial-recognition systems are said to misidentify people of color more often than white people which is a serious concern keeping in mind the ongoing protests and debates over racism. Critics also have raised concerns over implications of the right to freedom of association and right to privacy guaranteed under the First Amendment of the US constitution. Also, the Fourth Amendment prohibits an unlawful search of a place where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Where Does The Law Stand?
While many US police departments see this innovation as a way to make the law and order more efficient; San Francisco, Somerville, Massachusetts, Oakland, and California are the cities that have banned local law enforcement agencies from using FRT. 

The US Congress until now hasn’t introduced any legislation regarding either the use or a ban on the technology but the lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have raised concerns in recent oversight hearings. Though researchers and activists have raised concerns about the risks associated, the FBI and US Department of Homeland Security continue to use this technology to screen travellers and process immigration.

Congress and legislatures nationwide must swiftly stop law enforcement use of face recognition, and companies like Microsoft should work with the civil rights community to make that happen.

The American Civil Liberties Union

Neutral Stand Of Tech-giants
With growing voices to end police brutality and racial profiling, the tech-giants namely IBM, Amazon, and Microsoft have decided to limit the use of FRT and not sell it to any police department in the US until there is a federal law regulating it.

Microsoft was the first one to call for regulating FRT two years ago while backing the legislation in California to allow limited use of FRT. Recently, Microsoft clarified that it has not sold any such technology to police departments and it plans to put in place review factors to determine the use of FRT beyond law enforcement.

We will not sell facial-recognition technology to police departments in the United States until we have a national law in place that will govern this technology. The bottom line for us is to protect the human rights of people as this technology is deployed.

Brad Smith, Microsoft President

IBM has reported that it will be exiting the facial-recognition business over concerns about its uses for mass surveillance and racial profiling. Amazon has banned police from using its FRT for a year and has said that it will give Congress enough time to implement appropriate rules.

Technology has penetrated every aspect of governance and especially for law enforcement, technology brings in many advantages, but also raises questions over privacy and credibility. The courts and policymakers need to strike the right balance between the need for information and the right to privacy.

  • Woody Bledsoe was an American mathematician, computer scientist, and prominent educator. He is one of the founders of artificial intelligence (AI). He pioneered Facial recognition technology and in pattern recognition.
  • In Russia, there is an app ‘FindFace’ which can identify faces with about 70% accuracy using the social media app called VK. This app would not be possible in other countries that do not use VK as their social media platform photos are not stored the same way as with VK.
  • In December 2017, Facebook rolled out a new feature that notifies a user when someone uploads a photo that includes what Facebook thinks is their face, even if they are not tagged. “We’ve thought about this as a really empowering feature,” Facebook officials said. “There may be photos that exist that you don’t know about.”