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The employment of facial recognition technology is a novel, and relatively unexplored issue. This innovation is a software, programmed to find the identities of any person unfortunate enough to be caught on camera, matching facial characteristics with any in its extensive database. In spite of its quite recent creation, facial recognition technology has already made its debut not only in law enforcement, but commercially in social media companies as well. Facial recognition is a powerful tool, allowing the operator to know the precise identity, and location of countless individuals at any time, so long as there are cameras.
Regardless of the omnipotence facial recognition technology grants its users, there are hardly any limitations on its application, leaving many justly concerned about infringements to their rights, especially their right to privacy. Others however, see facial recognition as a viable approach to help limit crime, and protect citizens from those who would violate the law. With the capacity to to obtain the identity, location, and personal information of criminals or victims, law enforcement can have a distinct advantage in its fight against crime, (Four controversial uses).
The balance of a citizen’s freedoms verses his security is a sensitive one, and this debate has been around a long time before facial recognition technology was invented, albeit the use of such an effective technique for information-gathering has exacerbated the issue. Governments in most nations have neglected to make any unequivocal movements with respect to the utilization of facial recognition technology, not astonishing given that it is such a volatile issue.
Lamentably, the time has come to take a definitive position on the issue, and choose whether the utilization of facial recognition technology should be permitted, and if so, how.
The utilization of facial recognition technology technology represents a threat to the safety of the public. Already one in every five Americans identify themselves as victims of identity theft, (Sullivan). Imagine identity thieves having access to locate an individual’s personal information with only a single picture. When a person’s identity is stolen, the harm is never easily undone. “Your face is the information that identifies you. It’s unstoppable once it’s leaked on the Web, because you can’t change it like a password,” (Privacy Visor). Not at all like passwords like passwords which are so often taken, but then easing changed shortly after by their users, it goes without saying that a person’s face cannot be changed so easily. With facial recognition, digital criminals currently have the means to use anyone’s own appearance against him. Facial recognition technology can recognize individuals by pictures posted on the web, and people who agree to have pictures taken of them are not by any means the only ones who are at risk of cybercrime either. Any image taken by others, even strangers might by utilized to identify, and locate a person with amazing precision, even those in the background of shots. A person’s face, “can represent [him] in the digital world, and may be misused, lost or stolen, leading to potential matching, tracking, impersonation and other deceptive practices,” (It’s a reality). Not only can facial recognition technology be used to steal personal information, but it can also be used to track a person’s movements, finding associated pictures of individuals on work sites, social media, and even public records. This robs individuals of their right to anonymity. People have the right to some control over when, and where others can identify them. Hunting of people, and their personal data has never been as effortless than now. Various occurrences where facial recognition technology has been abused to hurt others have already happened, “Findface is an app that allows anyone to take a photograph, upload it into the app and then find that person on Vkontakte, a Russian social network similar to Facebook…an online community…decided to use images from pornographic videos and find and harass the women on their social network profiles – and also contact their friends and family,” (Four Controversial Uses). Women were harassed, and tormented by strangers who were simply granted access to one of the most effective surveillance technologies in existence, facial recognition. This was not the only incident where Findface was used to hurt people in a similar manner.
In spite of the countless issues involving facial recognition technology, it is still essentially unrestricted, and lawful, “No federal privacy law expressly regulates commercial uses of facial recognition technology, and laws do not fully address key privacy issues stakeholders have raised, such as the circumstances under which the technology may be used to identify individuals or track their whereabouts and companions,” (Facial Recognition Technology: Commercial Uses). Governments simply have no idea about how to address the matter, and some do not even really view it as a problem. Many trust that so long as their information is stored in secure databases, that the data is completely safe from harm. These databases are not as secure as most think. In regards to the online world, nothing is entirely secure, “Hacker groups such as Anonymous and LulzSec have been involved in security breaches of networks belonging to the United Nations, the CIA, and multiple security contractors, not to mention banks and major software vendors,” (Kaspersky). The wellbeing of citizens’ identities cannot be ensured with even the most secure databases. If programmers can break into the CIA, and the UN, then how secure could a single government’s, not to mention a private corporation’s database truly be? With such incredible dangers to the exposure of personal information, a database should not be the only thing standing between harmful programmers, and an entire populace’s sensitive information.
Trust among society, and its government is a very important, and yet very sensitive thing, this trust is made increasingly difficult to accomplish when the government is allowed to utilize surveillance instruments like facial recognition technology to track its citizens. A favored argument used by proponents of facial recognition is that individuals who do not do anything illicit have nothing to hide, and thus should not worry about being spied upon. A specialist on the matter of privacy, Professor Daniel Solove refutes this logic, stating, “When privacy is compromised, though, the problems can go far beyond the exposure of illegal activity or embarrassing information. It can provide the government with a tremendous amount of power over its people,” (Solove). Privacy limits one person’s control over another; this logic is the same for a government’s power over its citizens. Were any government flawless, and completely trustworthy, the would be no reason to restrict its power. No government is without fault however. Limitations must be instituted to guarantee a government does not abuse its power. Scarcely any confinements have been placed to ensure governments do not utilize facial recognition technology unjustly. If a government gets ahold of a person’s sensitive information, this information can be used to threaten, blackmail, or otherwise control that person. While the possibility that a government might use facial recognition technology to control, or coerce its populace might seem melodramatic, or even impossible, issues have only just recently surfaced when a privately owned business sold facial recognition technology to Bahrain. Bahrain has been proven in the past to have an oppressive government, and this same government may use the technology to rid itself of human rights activists, who openly oppose their policies. This loss of these citizens’ right to privacy might also threaten their freedom of speech as well, “Victims of Bahrain’s security forces say the government cannot be trusted with its surveillance capabilities…’When it comes to human rights activists in Bahrain, all of them are now behind bars,’ [says a former resident of Bahrain],” (Warnings of Abuse). Activists in countries like this could be considerably suppressed with facial recognition equipment, enabling governments to know when, where, and who participates in public rallies, and even aid in capturing those individuals who are identified at the rally locales.
Facial recognition technology causes far too numerous issues to be a viable, practical, or moral tool. The technology jeopardizes individual’s security, social and financial safety, and haven from government influence. Among the dangers presented by facial recognition technology are potential abuse of the technologies power, and the utilization of facial recognitions as an aid for hacking, tracking, and identity theft. Governments, privately owned businesses, and any other associations should not be permitted to use facial recognition because of these potential risks. The only people with access to another’s personal data should be the proprietor of said data. Remaining anonymous with facial recognition technology is much like trying to hide your identity from a close friend, it cannot work.
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