As the title of my blog implies, my primary bread and butter has been that of Biometrics. This is something that I have worked with for a long period of time, in fact, since the horrible days of 9/11. I remember that day very well, and if fact, I was supposed to head out on that day of all things to a Biometrics conference in DC. But of course, that never took place.
Biometric Technology, especially that of Facial Recognition, received worldwide attention that it would be the next Savior in terms of security. The stocks of some of the biggest Facial Recognition vendors shot up, and VCs were pumping money into them like it was the late 90’s. But quickly, this technology did not live up to its hype, and thus like the .com era, it too had its major bust.
It suffered from numerous flaws, such as not being able to confirm the identity of an individual at a far distance, and also not being able to recognize an individual under different environmental conditions. To get a lot more detail about Facial Recognition, see this page on my website:
Well since those days, Facial Recognition has come a long, long way. For instance, it can now scan the faces of people at far distances, and is widely deployed in international airports. Another big application for it has also been in its usage in CCTV cameras. After an image of an individual is taken, the Facial Recognition system then compares it against and analyzes it against a set of databases that is made available by law enforcement.
So, speaking of which . . . Facial Recognition actually got huge allocades this morning in a news headline that I came across. On June 28, there was a mass shooting at the at the offices of newspaper publisher Capital Gazette Communications in Annapolis. The police caught a suspect, but faced some huge obstacles when they apprehended him: The man had no identification, he wouldn’t speak to investigators, and a fingerprint database wasn’t producing results.
So, the next step was to run his mug shot through a Facial Recognition database. Voila, within minutes, law enforcement was able to confirm his identity, and thus, from there, were able to work backwards from the crime scene to find more evidence and to see if there were others involved as well. So yes, well done and bravo to the law enforcement officials involved, hopefully this suspect will be brought to justice soon.
But, now here is the flip side of all this: Despite this great success story and the technological achievements that Facial Recognition has made, it suffers from a serious which will most likely forever plague it:
The violation of privacy rights and civil liberties amongst US citizens and others whom live in this country. Apparently, the state of Maryland has been suffering from intense criticism from privacy advocates and civil rights groups who say they could be used to covertly monitor innocent people or reinforce racial profiling.
Now, I am going to present both sides of this, first starting with the privacy rights advocates against Facial Recognition:
*Facial recognition systems tend to misidentify African Americans more often than Caucasians;
*It could allow police to conduct real-time surveillance against people not suspected of crimes;
*There are justice concerns, given the racial disparities in the rates of arrests, compounded by higher error rates for African Americans in many facial recognition algorithms;
*There are very few checks and balances put into place to audit the proper usage of Facial Recognition systems by law enforcement;
*There are other means for law enforcement to confirm the identity of a suspect such as releasing a picture of the suspect to the public;
*Rekognition, the Facial Recognition system from Amazon could be used to inappropriately monitor innocent Americans and exacerbate racial profiling in African communities.
Now, here is the standpoint from Law Enforcement for Facial Recognition:
*The ability to find other suspects, identify victims;
*The ability to bring the perpetrators to justice quickly, thus resulting in a rapid resolution;
*Use of traditional investigative methods would have taken much longer, thus allowing the suspect to even evade law enforcement;
*Because of the quick identification of the suspect, further lives were saved in this mass shooting.
Now, here are my views, having been a Biometrics professional for a long time. I do see both sides here, and my view on it remains neutral. This is by no means an easy problem to solve, and in fact, it may never even be solved. This is a huge, controversial topic in which even an entire book could be written on (and in fact, I did do this sort of thing, and here is the link for it: https://www.crcpress.com/Adopting-Biometric-Technology-Challenges-and-Solutions/Das/p/book/9781498717441).
But keep in mind a very important perspective here. Here in the United States, we have this thing called the Constitution. In it, to some degree or another, we are guaranteed that we will be counted and recognized as citizens by our own government. And if we are not, then there are legal avenues that we can take to take for counter action. So thus, we have the luxury to wave that Privacy Rights and Civil Liberties Violations flag.
But in the developing nations, such as those in Africa, Facial Recognition is being adopted widely without any questions what so ever. The citizens in those countries are welcoming it with open arms as it gives them the means to be actually recognized by their own governments when otherwise they would not be.
As a result, they are getting the entitlements and benefits that they are supposed to be getting. There is no issue here of Privacy Rights violations, because the citizens in these countries do not have that luxury to wave that proverbial flag.
On a technical note, yes, Facial Recognition can be a good tool to use in securing the lines of defense for any entity, whether it is commercial or governmental. But like all other tools, it still has its flaws, and thus should be used in conjunction with other Security technologies as a multi layered solution.