Fears Over Facial Recognition Escalate

Published · Aug 02, 2021

Governments and citizens are becoming increasingly concerned about the prevalence of facial recognition. The House of Lords in the United Kingdom is currently looking into the application of this technology in law enforcement.

Members of the House consulted legal experts to familiarize themselves with the mechanism.  Professor Michael Wooldridge, Head of Computer Science at Oxford, expressed his concerns about the ways the technology is used. His main worry is that officers could become overreliant on it and ignorant about its shortcomings.

AI systems that use facial recognition are known to misidentify people, show bias against minorities, or in some cases, fail to register them at all.

This could have damaging consequences when it comes to issues of justice.

Rising Concerns in the US

Across the Atlantic, the US Government has also been busy. It was recently uncovered that several federal agencies use unregulated facial recognition systems.

These are often bought or licensed from vendors subject to minimal oversight or used without the federal agency’s knowledge. While probes are ongoing, some states have put heavy restrictions in place.

US citizens are already feeling the effects of the technology’s implementation. According to a recent story by CNN, unemployment agencies in 25 states use a service called “ID.me” to verify the identity of applicants.

Part of the verification process requires candidates to submit a video selfie that will be paired with their ID photo. Videos are better for facial recognition than static images, as they catch dynamic micro-expressions and the way shifting lighting changes a face.

This improves the quality of the system’s “facial print,” allowing it to identify people from a wider range of angles and in different settings. Citizens who refuse to submit facial data are locked out of unemployment payments owed to them.

Facial Recognition Usage in the East

The West isn’t the only place where facial recognition technology spreads rapidly.

Chinese Tech Giant Tencent has been using it to ID underage users and to lock them out of games when it’s bedtime. The government has also applied this technology in the fight against the spread of Covid-19.

In India, facial recognition is utilized for law enforcement and to track protesters. Attempts to use the tech to replace things like key cards to access hotel rooms are being made in Japan.

It’s common in commercial products, too.

Biometric facial unlock functions exist on PCs (e.g., Windows Hello) and mobile devices through systems like Apple’s Face ID.

Swelling the Data Pools

Soon, rich facial prints could be as common as ID numbers and associated records in databases. The latter are often utilized by background check services and people search sites, which anyone can access.

People are already anxious about the mere existence of big data and its “official” uses, like training algorithms for targeted advertising and law enforcement. Not to mention fears over the rise in data breaches exposing the sensitive data of millions.

What Are the Implications of Leaking One’s Facial Print?

Tech like DeepFakeRich already uses facial data to construct digital masks. Combine this with the increase in digital communication, and the potential for advanced ID theft is rife.

It is a relatively new and rapidly proliferating technology, and there are few guarantees.

If an entity acquires facial data under the guise of a particular usage, what assurance is there that it won’t be put to another unanticipated use later?

Has the data been shared with other entities?

All these questions and outcomes are something governments and citizens are now fighting to address.

Garan van Rensburg
Garan van Rensburg

Garan is a writer interested in how tech reshapes the environment, and how the environment reshapes tech. You'll usually find him inoculating against future shock and arguing with bots.