ArticlesThe Controversy Behind Facial Recognition Technology

One of the world’s most groundbreaking technological advances happened during the Industrial Revolution, where inventiveness transformed the economy into a booming success. Today, the world experiences the highest living standards ever recorded in history. We are blessed with technological advancements that go beyond our materialistic needs. Today, the focal point of our technological pursuit is slowly tailored towards digitization as more and more of our everyday lives are affected by it. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella...
Edmund ZhenOctober 6, 201870614 min

One of the world’s most groundbreaking technological advances happened during the Industrial Revolution, where inventiveness transformed the economy into a booming success. Today, the world experiences the highest living standards ever recorded in history. We are blessed with technological advancements that go beyond our materialistic needs. Today, the focal point of our technological pursuit is slowly tailored towards digitization as more and more of our everyday lives are affected by it.

Image from Kaspersky Lab.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said to Fox Business News, “Everything that we think about, every place is being digitized, whether it’s a retail outlet or a hospital, stadium, your home, or your workplace is increasingly computing [and] is getting embedded in the real world.”

This rings true in the concept of how advanced today’s technology is, with digitization and new innovations consistently capturing the attention of companies and even foreign countries. Recently, that has been AI facial recognition technology. The successes in its accuracy have enticed cities to reach out to tech companies such as Rekognition and NEC Corporation of America, a major supplier of the system, to learn more about its product. This technology can aid law enforcers in finding by its ability to scan waves of people at once at multiple locations which would replace contemporary methods of finding offenders by waiting at the scene. This technology gives the police an omniscient approach to fight crime and a better sense of safety for the people. So far, the city of Orlando, Florida and the Washington County in Oregon have been deploying this technology in its jurisdiction and other cities are seeking to adopt it as well.

An example of how recognition technologies are used by the police force.

In China, this technology has already been in effect. It has been tracking and keeping tabs on China’s population of 1.4 billion people with over 200 million cameras installed in the streets of majors cities to suburban areas.

This mass surveillance has proven the beneficial effect of facial recognition as Chinese law enforcement has arrested over 3000 fugitives since its installment.

Life inside China’s heavy surveillance

But how does facial recognition technology actually work?

The magic behind facial recognition technology is in its biometric identification systems. It examines the physical features of a person’s body such as fingerprint matching, eye scanning, voice recognition to distinguish one from the rest. From that, they take the image and run it through their database in order to see if a match can be found. The extent of its efficiency is recorded by Tara Francis Chan, a reporter for Business Insider, in an interview with local Chinese newspaper Worker’s Daily. They said,

“the system is fast enough to scan China’s population in just one second, and it takes two seconds to scan the world’s population.”

This means, in under one second, the computer database is able to scan the facial features of billions and individually run it through a database to find any perpetrators. The usage of it can be applied to the internet or even in security cameras.

(More information on how facial recognition technology works can be found here.)

Despite the promising successes Rekognition and NEC advocates, an issue arises from Americans that regards their privacy. In a public research done by GAO (U.S Government Accountability Office), it was stated,

“If its use became widespread, it could give businesses or individuals the ability to identify almost anyone in public without their knowledge or consent and to track people’s locations, movements, and companions. They have also raised concerns that information collected or associated with facial recognition technology could be used, shared, or sold in ways that consumers do not understand, anticipate, or consent to. Some stakeholders disagree that the technology presents new or unusual privacy risks, noting, among other things, that individuals should not expect complete anonymity in public and that some loss of privacy is offset by the benefits the technology offers consumers and businesses.”

The data GAO found reflects on the fear many Americans have. If this technology is widely used, the risk of personal information being sold to other companies without the user’s knowledge gets higher. This type of incident happened recently with the Facebook scandal that delved the social conglomerate with legal matters.

(More information on the what the Facebook scandal was about can be found here.)

Another fear many Americans have is the loss of privacy due to government overreach. Even though citizens have the Fourth Amendment to guarantee a certain degree of privacy in their lives, President Bush caused a level of erosion to it when he passed The Patriot Act in 2001, which permitted the government to gather data on its citizen’s telecommunications, credit, and financial records. In lieu of that, citizens are afraid that the spread of facial recognition technology might open up doors for the government to further intrude our privacy and conduct surveillance on our everyday routines through private companies.

Whether or not facial recognition technology is good for the American people or government, it is still a mystery to be solved. Our involvement in it is still not yet advanced like China’s, and regulations on it are still a few years behind. As facial recognition technology gets more and more popular in the tech world, only time can tell whether or not this technology fits well into the lives of the American people, and if we are willing to give up privacy for the price of increased safety.

Edmund Zhen

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