Public safety and national security are two advantages of facial recognition technology.
Law enforcement agencies use the technology to identify known criminals and to find missing children or seniors. Airports are increasingly adding facial recognition technology to security checkpoints. Unsurprisingly, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security predicts that by 2023 97% of travellers will be subjected to facial recognition.
Facial recognition can also be convenient. In the same way that fingerprint or voice recognition grants access, facial recognition may become a laissez-passer to offices, banks, museums, senior citizens’ homes and hotel rooms.
Although possible, it is hard to fool facial recognition technology, and so it can help prevent fraud. In addition, when people know they are being watched, they are less likely to commit a crime so facial recognition technology is a deterrent.
So much for the pros. There are cons. The biggest drawback is the threat to an individual’s privacy. Facial recognition is considered invasive, inaccurate, and lacking proper regulation and oversight. Several cities are thinking twice about real-time facial recognition surveillance because the risks of using the technology outweigh the benefits.
Amazon’s Rekognition software, which has been used by police departments throughout the USA, has been found to perform poorly when identifying an individual’s gender if they are female or darker-skinned. Such biases in the software put marginalized communities at risk and make people of colour more likely to be the victims of wrongful arrest.
The slippery slope of facial recognition technology leads to real-time, non-stop surveillance, where daily activities such as shopping and visiting as well as activities like attending a political protest are monitored, recorded and archived. There is no way of knowing how such information will be used in future or who will have access to it.
Civil society groups are demanding an immediate moratorium on the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement and other government agencies. They want public consultations on reform of privacy legislation at all levels, including regulation and oversight of its use.
Information privacy rights, which include biometric identification, require carefully crafted legal mechanisms that cover all eventualities and bind all potential users of personal information.
Artificial intelligence applications and facial recognition technology can be powerful and useful tools when used appropriately. But for this to happen, lawmakers and civil society will have to constrain and monitor their use and abuse.