In today’s blog, we conclude our series on Facial Recognition:

The Privacy Issues Involved 

The use of facial recognition technologies aren’t an invasion of privacy per se; however, as facial recognition technologies can be deployed passively in a random (identification) environment, the people they scan, extract features from, and attempt to identify may not even be aware of the process (let alone provide their consent).

As a society, we don’t fiercely object to the presence of a uniformed officer keeping a lookout for wanted criminals; at the same time, we haven’t fully accepted the idea of a camera surrogate for such official presence.

So what are the differences between the officer and the camera?  Nothing in principle.  But cameras are cheap, and computers are very good at correlating data.  So if facial recognition technology becomes accurate and fast enough, distributed surveillance of individuals is possible.  (Facial recognition systems have a long way to go before anything like this could become practical.)

In controlled (verification) environments, privacy concerns are less an issue.  The process of verification generally requires the active participation of a witting and consenting target, as is true for any biometric system.  However, due to the limited accuracy of facial recognition technologies at present, especially vis-a-vis biological and non-biological changes in the face as described previously, you would have to remove various obstructions from your face.

This means, then, that you can’t successfully verify your identity while in disguise or while obscuring your face, should you need to authenticate yourself while remaining anonymous to human onlookers.

For others not involved directly in a biometric verification transaction, the privacy concern surrounding such a facial verification device mainly involve the presence of the camera.  The use of biometric technology is irrelevant from the perspective of this privacy concern; there are cameras in public places already, and the same arguments regarding privacy apply to them as to facial verification cameras in public.