The Effect of Facial Recognition Technology on Privacy

As better technologies emerge to identify people using facial recognition programs, our right to privacy is being threatened. From Facebook to the FBI, your face is being used without your permission as a new type of fingerprint.

The FBI and other law enforcement agencies are using face recognition technology to help solve crimes. Camera footage is used to identify wanted persons. Stores also use camera footage to identify shoplifters. The programs allow officers to solve crimes faster by quickly identifying suspects. They simply cross-reference an image against the DMV, inmate records, passport photos, and visa applications to find potential matches. While this isn’t the only tool used in solving these crimes, they do aid in the process.

Face recognition is used for more than just fighting crime though. Brick and mortar stores use it to track repeat customers and customize ads, Facebook uses it to suggest tagging people in photos, Apple uses it to allow users to unlock devices, and car-makers are starting to use the technology to unlock vehicles.

Essentially, the face is a fingerprint. It is broken down into a binary code. The facial recognition programs aim to match the code, not match the actual photo, as one might think. It is the pixels that are being used to search.

But is face recognition technology a violation of privacy? Civil liberty groups think that it is and they see it posing a threat to minorities and immigrants. It completely removes anonymity and it is not just used to solve terrible crimes. It can be used to pick out a participant in a protest among a crowd of people for example.

Though face recognition first came to light in the 1960’s, it really took off once funds were increased for national security after 9/11. Now the technology is growing and there are no federal laws prohibiting the use of the technology.

Furthermore, big companies like Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Google are not required to get your permission for facial recognition tracking. Nor do they have to provide information to the government when it is requested from them.

While facial recognition technology is a useful tool among law enforcement officials, it does have a negative effect on privacy. There are currently several law suits under way and their outcome will likely effect the future of face recognition programs and how they can be used.