Face Recognition Technology and Civil Rights
Jan 22, 2021
Face Recognition Technology and Civil Rights
Rebecca Jacob

From looking into waters for their reflection to mirrors and then cameras, we, humans, have come a long way. After digital cameras came into existence, it was possible to have databases of large numbers of faces and their facial features. The advancement of software and technologies made it possible to use this database, run for facial recognition technology. It is now capable of analyzing and recognizing human faces as accurately as possible. The advancement of technology is revolutionary. We are able to derive countless benefits from this technological advancement; from tracking crimes to tracking those who commit them, facial recognition technology has helped us in many ways. Various reports suggest that the crime rate has gone down with increased video surveillance. The other benefits include increased security in terms of helping you unlock your phone, identifying intruders at the gate, and so on. What more benefits can you think of?

Like we know that there are two sides to every coin, facial recognition technology also has its downsides. While you would be comfortable being recognized by your smartphone, you would not be happy to be recognized on the streets when you are grocery shopping. Being identified and tracked when you would like to be left alone is the last thing anyone could ask for.

So, what are the issues that can arise due to a surge in facial recognition technology?

The first thought that comes to everyone's mind is 'invasion of privacy'. Although we are wired as social beings, we are not comfortable with being tracked every moment we step out; it seems like a violation of our right to privacy.

Apart from privacy issues, facial recognition technology can cause other problems as well. Since it is capable of analyzing and recognizing humans' facial features, it becomes easier to find out the racial and ethnic background. We know that people are sensitive to their roots and where they come from. Hence, exposing their ethnicity when they are just walking on the roads can leave people vulnerable. It can lead to discrimination and an increase in the rate of hate crimes. Moreover, experiments have shown that while these facial recognition systems are more accurate in recognizing the features of whites' and males' features, facial recognition of females and dark skin people is not entirely accurate. As a result, there is a higher number of errors in identifying women and people who are dark-skinned.

Not to forget, due to the unreliability of this software, errors can also take place. A major threat to facial recognition technology is that a mistaken identity can cost lives. There are numerous instances where innocents have been identified as criminals. Academics at the University of Sussex had conducted a study and found out that criminals were identified correctly only one out of five times. In other words, the chances of being accurate are only 20%, while the chances of wrong identification are 80%. Furthermore, people can also be misidentified about their race, religion, and culture. All of this constitutes a violation of civil rights.

Besides invasion of privacy and innocents being identified as criminals, facial recognition technology can cause other problems as well. How would you feel if somebody knew your strengths and weaknesses and manipulated you? How would you feel if somebody knows you so well that they decide to take advantage of it? Most of us might say we feel ?used.? Most of us fail to understand that marketers are using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and facial recognition software to get to know us. Once they know our interests and preferences, and you walk into a store, the AI can read your emotions in no time and present you with choices. You are most likely to end up buying a product or use that service. There are ongoing debates, with one side advocating for providing the customer what they exactly need, and another side advocating for the need for privacy.

Furthermore, with our data being left in the open, there are chances of people?s identity being stolen and used for fraudulent activities.

There are instances where people have felt violated by the increased use of facial recognition technology. People had tried to take legal action when they were displeased with how the facial recognition technology was being used. For the case of civil rights campaigner Ed Bridges, the UK court ruled that the use of facial recognition violates human rights. The court, however, did not oppose the use of facial recognition entirely. Instead, the court advised users to deploy better care when using this technology.

There are other places where strict action against facial recognition technology has been taken. San Francisco has banned the use of facial recognition technology because it feels that it gives the government the power to track people?s daily lives.

The bottom line is with technology advancing, the use of facial recognition is also increasing. While some places have banned the use of this technology, some advocate a careful approach. A careful approach ensures that there is a reduced conflict of interest between both parties. Facial recognition can help us during airport security tests, unlocking our phones, finding out intruders, and many more. It can also be used to track number plates of vehicles and use them when traffic rules are violated. Hence, the benefits of facial recognition cannot be denied. However, it is equally important to address the civil rights aspect as well.

Invasion of privacy, and not having individuals consent over access to their data should not be taken lightly. The right to the private lives of each person is an individual choice. Hence, taking their consent by genuine means can bring a balanced approach to the use of facial recognition software.

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