Facial Recognition Technology is Here — But at What Cost?
As facial recognition technology becomes more advanced and prevalent, the opposition to these developments grows as well. Opponents are not necessarily against the technology per se – which can have positive impacts when used well – but against the potential of the technology to trample on the right to privacy, security compromises, and more.
An example of a negative use of Facial Recognition in New York, a woman was denied entry to the Christmas Spectacular Show at Radio City Music Hall, part of Madison Square Garden Entertainment, because she is employed at a law firm involved in litigation against a restaurant under MSG. She was identified as she tried to enter the venue with facial recognition technology and subsequently barred from entering. She was accompanying her daughter’s girl scout troop at the time.
In Georgia, a man was arrested for stealing thousands of dollars’ worth of designer handbags in Louisiana based on a sketch designed by facial recognition technology. His lawyer says that the man has never even stepped foot in Louisiana. In the past few years, three other men were wrongfully arrested due to mistakes in facial recognition technology.
Ethical Concerns of Facial Recognition Technology
The use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement agencies and private entities raises several ethical issues:
- Individual privacy and consent
Organizations use technology to identify individuals without their consent, which is a major ethical faux pas. Moreover, who has access to this information? For example, facial recognition technology can track an individual as they run errands — but why is this happening? What’s the purpose and what’s done with the data? This is a gross infringement on individual privacy.
Even when there is a purpose, i.e., for law enforcement or for a company like MSG Entertainment to enforce its own rules, individuals are being identified against their consent. This is why using facial recognition technology is so controversial.
2. Racial bias and wrongful arrests
A 2020 study showed that facial recognition technology has the most errors when identifying Black females between the ages of 18 and 30. When used by law enforcement agencies, or a company for that matter, this poses a real threat and bias against the Black community. This is not a theoretical threat, but an actual one, as can be seen from the examples of wrongful arrests cited above.
3. Data security
Any form of biometrics, like a fingerprint or iris recognition, is a type of property, which means that it can be forged or stolen, like a password. This presents a security challenge to individuals who use facial recognition to enter locked phones or other private accounts.
On a larger scale, companies that store facial recognition data on their servers can also be hacked. Then all of that data (which was not given consented to be collected) could be compromised. Among these companies at risk are ones which might seem benign, like entertainment and photography apps that use facial capture to manipulate photographs in seemingly fun ways (like aging) or to create AI generated art.
Will Facial Recognition Become Mainstream?
The technology is here and available. However, it has not gained mainstream acceptance due to important privacy and ethical issues.
Last year, the European Parliament voted in favor of a resolution banning the use of facial recognition technology in public places. In the U.S., there are no federal regulations and every state has its own laws about the use of this technology, especially by law enforcement agencies.
For now, there are enough proponents and opponents to keep this powerful technology in check. Proponents push for new technological breakthroughs, which can have real benefits like helping law enforcement identify victims, missing persons, and criminals quickly, and faster border checks at airports or secure locations. Opponents aim to ensure the benefits of facial recognition technology don’t trample on privacy, security, and other important issues like human rights.
On the flip side, one of Interfor’s security startups, Proptech.ai, successfully deploys Facial Recognition software to greatly improve and enhance access control systems around the world. This is an example of the technology being used in beneficial ways to improve security and frictionless access to offices, buildings and secure locations.
While technological advances are wonderful and drive all sorts of innovation, it is important that the cons not outweigh the pros. That’s why facial recognition technology may take a long time until (or if) it is fully accepted by mainstream society.