All technology can be used in both good and bad ways and so can facial recognition technology. Asides the primary reason for the use of this technology – which is for security, the use of this technology is extended to surveillance and biometric verification. In consumer analytics also, this technology is used to monitor consumer behavior and their movements in order to enhance predictive analysis performed on customers.

Governments in developed countries have CCTV cameras all around cities in order to monitor their citizens and do some institutions. A major supermarket chain in New Zealand was reported by the NZ Herald to have deployed cameras in some of its stores in order to monitor their attendees – especially students – on their campus stores.

While this technology might seem rather beneficial to governments and institutions, individuals and organizations have started kicking, especially on issues relating to privacy. In Hong Kong for example, a group of masked protesters went around destroying CCTV poles, expressing their displeasure towards the government’s move to consistently monitor its citizens.

Privacy Concerns on Facial Security Technology

These privacy concerns are becoming rather widespread and the discussion can be categorized into three focal points:

  • Consent: To have a perfectly working and robust facial recognition technology, the software has to be run against a large database containing several facial images with which the system can be modelled and the algorithm trained to detect and match faces in the database. Some developers include emotion detector in their software as an add-on.

The need for a large pool of faces is where the concern arises as the way these images are gathered are mostly unauthorized – stemming from one or more violations of some privacy policies. There are several claims that many of the facial recognition software currently in use today, gather data through mining off the Internet which happens without owners’ consent.

  • Perfection: Tests conducted on several facial recognition technologies have shown that many of these software are far from perfection. And as with several policies, a good example being the Information Privacy Principle 8 under New Zealand’s (current) Privacy Act, many agencies are restricted from using personal information, including facial images, if they cannot be accurately matched with the individual.

 Given the flaws in many facial recognition software today, such privacy acts would be difficult to abide by and in an attempt to obtain better accuracy for facial matching, these agencies begin flouting privacy laws and therefore obtaining images illegally.

  • Fast-changing landscape: Technology is advancing drastically and unfortunately; the law is seriously lagging behind in catching up with these changes and this is causing variations in the way courts all around the world handle issues pertaining to privacy regulations. Simply put, this means that not only will there be several grey areas regarding the use of facial recognition technology, in practice, it will be difficult to identify the exact actions that will be considered to be breaking of the law.

Since the ‘Days of Edward Snowden’

These concerns have gotten a lot of people aware of their privacy, especially since the whistleblower, Edward Snowden leaked secrets of the US National Security Agency on how they were constantly monitoring the American people through their devices. By and large, the concerns are still there but of course, ways by which users can protect their privacy is still of paramount importance. Explained below are a couple of them:

  • Securing your Network: While it is totally impossible to stay completely anonymous on the Internet all the time, using a VPN to secure your digital identity would help reduce the risk of such information being intercepted or retrieved by individuals who aren’t the intended recipients.
  • Turn location feature off: Several mobile device owners leave the GPS mode on their device on, without knowing that such feature gives away their exact location at any point in time and puts them at security risk.
  • App Permissions: Some applications request access to several parts of a device which when carefully thought of, aren’t necessary. Revoking unnecessary app permission is another way to go in securing user privacy.

Chris is the resident tech expert and managing director of #TurnOnVPN. #TurnOnVPN is an activist group whose mission is to promote free and unimpeded internet for all. We take part in numerous online events to advocate for a safe, secure, and censor-free Internet. Learn more at www.turnonvpn.org/blog/

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