Facial recognition – even the manufacturers are warning against its use

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Where it was once only imagined in sci fi movies, facial recognition is fast becoming common place. And it seems we are embracing it with open arms, with many prepared to forgo privacy in return for the convenience it purports to provide us.

Yet the law is lagging seriously behind when it comes to keeping pace at which technology is advancing, particularly regarding privacy laws and the use of facial recognition technology, according to privacy law expert, Travis Schultz, Principal of Travis Schultz Law.

“While Australia has some of the more developed legislation, dealing with privacy issues and data security of developed countries, the speed at which our government is regulating changes in technology languishes well beyond the speed with which advances are being made in the digital space,” Mr Schultz said.

“Australia long ago decreed our National Privacy Principles (now called the Australian Privacy Principles) but we still don’t have a generalised right to privacy in this country, nor do we have protection around individuals’ rights to privacy while locational services are activated on our mobile devices”.

Perhaps, what should concern most of us is that even Brian Brackeen, founder of facial recognition company Kairos, yesterday revealed in an article in Techcrunch that, “Facial recognition technologies, used in the identification of suspects, negatively affects people of color. To deny this fact would be a lie.

“And clearly, facial recognition-powered government surveillance is an extraordinary invasion of the privacy of all citizens — and a slippery slope to losing control of our identities altogether.”

And of all people he should know. “As the black chief executive of a software company developing facial recognition services, I have a personal connection to the technology, both culturally and socially”.

The areas of concern lie primarily around the fact that facial recognition software is not foolproof, especially when it comes to identifying people of colour, which may lead to incorrect identification.

Simply put the facial recognition software has not scanned enough “faces of colour” to have perfected the technology – the more faces it scans the more likely it will be able to identify people correctly. To overcome the current racial biases in face recognition and “to be truly effective, the algorithms powering facial recognition software require a massive amount of information”, Mr Brackeen said.

So, why have most of us become so blasé about the ever-encroaching tentacles of the digital space in our lives? Mr Schultz believes that we have simply become used to the ease and convenience technology has afforded us.

“Most of us long ago accepted the trade-off for the convenience of apps like Google Maps, and their reliable directions, was the ability for data on our movements to be used for targeted advertising sent to our mobile devices,” Mr Schultz said.

“The growth in use of facial recognition software must surely be of grave concern to any fair-minded citizen who believes that an entitlement to a reasonable degree of privacy in one’s personal life is a fundamental human right.

“There may be a convenience associated with facial recognition software to unlock smartphones and similar devices, but advances in the efficacy of these software platforms, such as Amazon’s Rekognition are already being used by media organisations to help spot and track celebrities in public places.

Yet herein lies the issue. The Commonwealth Privacy Act imposes restrictions on the use of personal information collected by organisations to whom the legislation applies and also imposes mandatory reporting on any breaches of databases where personal information can be accessed. However, Mr Schultz says that “as it currently stands, “personal information” does not include our IP address or identifiers attributed to our personal mobile devices.

“Consequently, there is seemingly no restriction on facial recognition software being used in conjunction with locational services to not only identify us in public places but to store and record that information in a database which we have no control over; and probably won’t even know exists”.

Advances in technology and software programs are undoubtedly contributing to our overall quality of life in the 21st century, but unless legislative and regularly protections keep pace with advances in digital and information technology, we may find ourselves unwittingly walking to the beat of Big Brother’s drum.

For more information, go to www.schultzlaw.com.au