Your Face as a Commodity

The Risks of Facial Recognition Technology in the Hands of Private Companies and Governments

Facial recognition technology has become increasingly ubiquitous in our society, from unlocking our phones to tagging our friends on social media. Hollywood has also contributed to the normalization of this technology, often portraying it as a useful tool for catching the bad guy. However, as a privacy advocate with a deep distrust of government and surveillance systems, I believe that this technology poses a significant threat to our privacy and civil liberties. In this blog post, I will assess the privacy implications of facial recognition software and its use by governments, law enforcement, and private companies, and explain why we need to be more skeptical of its purported benefits.

The Privacy Implications of Facial Recognition Software

Facial recognition technology works by analyzing facial features and comparing them to a database of images to identify individuals. While this technology has the potential to be useful in certain contexts, such as unlocking a phone or improving security at an airport, there are significant risks associated with its use.

One major concern is the risk of false positives and misidentifications, particularly for individuals from marginalized communities who may be more likely to be wrongly identified. Another concern is the potential for misuse of facial recognition technology, particularly in the hands of governments and law enforcement agencies. This technology could be used for mass surveillance, tracking individuals’ movements and activities without their knowledge or consent.

Furthermore, the use of facial recognition technology raises serious questions about informed consent and the right to privacy. Many individuals may not be aware that their image is being captured and analyzed by facial recognition software, which could be used to build a detailed profile of their movements and behaviors.

Overall, the widespread use of facial recognition technology poses significant risks to personal privacy and civil liberties. It is important for policymakers and the public to carefully consider these risks when evaluating the potential benefits of this technology.

In the United States, there have been numerous instances of law enforcement agencies using facial recognition technology to identify and track individuals without their knowledge or consent. For example, in Detroit, Michigan, police used facial recognition technology to identify a suspect in a shoplifting case, which led to his wrongful arrest and detention for 30 hours. The man was ultimately released after it was determined that the facial recognition technology had made a mistake.

Another example occurred in China, where the government has used facial recognition technology for mass surveillance and social control. The Chinese government has implemented a “social credit” system, which assigns citizens a score based on their behavior, including their online activity and even their interactions with friends and family. Facial recognition technology is used to track individuals’ movements and activities, and those with low social credit scores may face consequences such as travel restrictions and limited access to public services. These examples illustrate the potential for facial recognition technology to be misused in ways that violate individuals’ rights and freedoms.

Recent Efforts to Regulate Facial Recognition Technology

Facial recognition technology has been the subject of increasing interest in regulation and oversight at the national and international levels. In the United States, a bill called the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act was introduced in Congress in 2020, which would ban the use of facial recognition technology by federal law enforcement agencies and impose a moratorium on its use by state and local law enforcement agencies. Several cities and states in the US have also taken steps to regulate facial recognition technology, including San Francisco, Oakland, Portland, and Massachusetts.

In the European Union, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) includes provisions that regulate the use of biometric data, including facial recognition technology. The GDPR requires that individuals provide explicit consent for the collection and processing of their biometric data and imposes strict requirements for data protection and security.

While there is still much work to be done to regulate facial recognition technology at the national and international levels, these recent legislative efforts are a step in the right direction. By imposing clear regulations and oversight, we can help ensure that this technology is used ethically and responsibly and that individuals’ privacy and civil liberties are protected.

How to Protect Yourself from Facial Recognition Technology

While regulation and oversight are crucial for protecting individuals’ privacy and civil liberties, there are also steps that individuals can take to protect themselves from facial recognition technology. Here are a few tips:

  1. Disable facial recognition features on your devices: Many devices, such as smartphones and laptops, offer facial recognition as a feature. Consider disabling these features to prevent your biometric data from being collected and used by tech companies.
  2. Avoid posting photos of yourself online: While it may be tempting to share photos of yourself on social media, doing so can provide a wealth of data for facial recognition algorithms. Consider limiting the amount of personal information you share online.
  3. Wear a mask or other facial covering: During the COVID-19 pandemic, wearing a mask or other facial covering has become commonplace. This can also be an effective way to protect your privacy by obscuring your facial features.
  4. Use privacy-focused tools and services: There are a growing number of tools and services available that aim to protect individuals’ privacy, such as browser extensions that block facial recognition scripts or VPNs that mask your online activity.
  5. Advocate for greater regulation and oversight: Finally, it is important to advocate for greater regulation and oversight of facial recognition technology at the national and international levels. By raising awareness and putting pressure on policymakers, we can help ensure that this technology is used ethically and responsibly.

By taking these steps, individuals can help protect themselves from the potential privacy risks associated with facial recognition technology. However, it is important to note that these measures may not be foolproof, and that effective regulation and oversight will ultimately be necessary to ensure that individuals’ privacy and civil liberties are protected.

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