logo Vivek Asrani
October 2, 2020
6 Min Read

How Facial Recognition Technology Poses A Threat to Human Rights?
logo Vivek Asrani
October 2, 2020 | 6 Min Read

How Facial Recognition Technology Poses A Threat to Human Rights?

Surveillance and facial recognition technology have become an integral part of our daily lives in the past few years.

Whether monitoring people in airports, searching for wanted criminals, enabling users to unlock their phones, or creating targeted marketing campaigns, facial recognition has become prominent. 

It has resulted in the creation of several innovative applications. 

However, it has also garnered legitimate concerns over privacy and security.

Let me give you two practical examples to showcase this point.

Case No. 1 The EU suggests a ban on the use of AI for mass surveillance of individuals. 

The reason being, it accumulates varied data about citizens like social media activities, criminal records, and much more.

Case No. 2 A ban has been imposed on the facial recognition system, prominent in everyday policing.

Axon, a prominent manufacturer of cameras, has been prompted to stop manufacturing due to AI facial recognition technology threats.

Before continuing with the discussion, let me explain the contextual meaning of facial recognition technology.

What is Facial Recognition Technology?

Facial recognition is a technology that scans a face, for example, at a sporting event, and employs artificial intelligence to compare it with the ones already existing in the database.

With the match found, it is possible to ascertain who the person is or if the person in question has any criminal record.

The authorities can take relevant action based on the match found.

Now you might have a question: What is the problem with this technology?

Let me give you some statistics that highlight the problem.

Facial Recognition: An inaccurate Tech

  1. Civil liberties group Big Brother Watch depicts citizens as “walking ID cards,” citing research where it was found that police officers who employed facial recognition tools identified the wrong person 90% of the time!
  2. Digital rights NGOs warns that facial recognition tends to harm privacy, security, and access to services. This is especially the case for marginalized communities. For example, look at the use of facial recognition in migration and asylum systems.
  3. In June 2020 this year, corporate giants like Microsoft, Amazon, and IBM announced that they would stop facial recognition technology sales, especially to police in the USA.
  4. According to research conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on facial analysis algorithms, it was found that people of color got misclassified over a third of the time. In contrast, for white people, there were hardly any such mistakes.

These were some of the overlooked statistics about facial recognition tech. In the next section, we will look at the different ways in which AI facial recognition technology poses a threat to human rights.

So, without further ado, let’s get started.

How Facial Recognition Technology Poses a Threat to Human Rights?

Here are some of the reasons that make me worried about facial recognition technology in public places.

1. Paves Our Way Towards Automated Blanket Surveillance 

Automated Blanket Surveillance

Image Source

CCTV has already become a norm across the globe. 

However, now the governments are going one step further by employing footage against you about specific clips where they find you doing something they claim to be evidential.

Facial recognition technology takes the level of monitoring to the next level.

It allows the automated and indiscriminate live surveillance of people as they go about their mundane business, giving authorities the chance to track their every move.

It is similar to what we have already seen in the TV series - Person of Interest. In the TV series, artificial intelligence is used to perform surveillance on all USA citizens.

The facial recognition AI ensures proper maintenance of law & order across the country.

 Person of Interest

Image Source

Most of the countries across the globe do not have any specific legislation that regulates facial recognition technology.

However, certain lawmakers are trying to bring about a change to this

Due to this legal limbo, there is a tendency of having open doors to abuse like getting our images without our knowledge or consent.

They can even use these images in ways that you disapprove of. 

3. Violates the Principles of Necessity and Proportionality 

A commonly stated human rights principle recognized by organizations from the UN and the London Policing Ethics Panel is that surveillance must be necessary and proportionate. 

In layman’s terms, it means that surveillance needs to be performed only to check the pursuit of serious crimes rather than doing unjustified interference into our fundamental and liberty rights. 

However, facial recognition tech is found wanted when we apply these principles. 

It is a technology that is symptomatic of the state’s mistrust of its citizens.

4. Violates Our Rights to Privacy 

Always keep in mind that the right to privacy is applicable even in public places.

However, facial recognition technology uses it indiscriminately by large-scale restoring and scrutinization of our images.

This undermines our right to privacy.

This is because we are no longer away from detective eyes glaring at us even in public.

5. Stifles our Participation in Political Protests and Campaigns 

Due to blanket surveillance discussed in the earlier point, people can get discouraged from attending public events. 

It can even discourage nonconformist behavior.

This chilling effect is a severe infringement on the right to freedom of expression during an assembly or association.

There is not much deliberation about the working mechanism of facial recognition technology.

It means that we are not asked for consent to record, analyze, and store our images in databases. 

By not allowing us to consent, we are denied choice and control over the use of our very own pictures!

7. Creates an Inaccurate Picture 

Facial recognition technology promises accurate identification.

However, studies confirm how algorithms trained on racially biased data sets misidentify people of color, especially the women.

Such algorithmic bias results in unlawful arrests.

It can lead to public agencies and private companies from discriminating against women and people from minority groups.

8. Results in Automation Bias 

In case people who employ facial recognition software believe that this technology is infallible, it can lead to bad decisions

Such automation bias needs to be avoided at all costs.

Always keep this in mind: Machine-generated outcomes should not determine the way state agencies or private organizations treat individuals. 

It is essential to have trained human operators who can exercise meaningful control and make decisions according to law.

9. Implies That There are Secret Government Watchlists 

The very fact that databases are containing our facial images needs to ring alarm bells.

This implies that private companies and law enforcement agencies share our information to build watchlists of potential suspects without prior consent or knowledge. 

This is a severe threat to our rights and civil liberties. 

There is even more significant concern about these databases’ security and their vulnerabilities to hackers’ actions. 

10. Can be Utilized to Target the Already Helpless Groups 

We have already discussed that facial recognition tech can be employed for blanket surveillance.

However, not many are aware that it can even be utilized selectively.

A prime example of that is how it affects migrants and refugees.

This is especially true for the sale of facial recognition software to agencies like the controversial US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

The reason being, such agencies have already been severely criticized for their tactics while dealing with migrants should worry anyone concerned about human rights.

Even the police force has started to use the handheld mobile phones with a facial recognition app, which raises the spectre for enhanced racial profiling at the street level.

These are some of the pointers that showcase how facial recognition tech can threaten human rights.

But if you think that facial recognition tech is only about the negatives then you will be surprised to know this.

There is a positive side to AI facial recognition technology too. 

In the last section, we will highlight the positives of using facial recognition tech.

Facial Recognition Benefits to the Society At Large

  1. Makes it easier to track down burglars, thieves, or other trespassers
  2. It takes a few seconds to recognize a face, which can prove to be quite beneficial for companies
  3. Easy to integrate without spending a lot of money
  4. Compatible with most of the security software
  5. Automates the identification process with incredible accuracy

Concluding Thoughts

Facial recognition is an incredible technology, albeit if you use it wisely.

On the one hand, it provides many benefits to companies and end-users by providing much-needed security and tracking down the trespassers.

On the other hand, somebody may misuse it for personal benefit resulting in severe consequences.

Without proper regulation of facial recognition technology, we risk creating dystopian police states that were once free, democratic countries.

In my opinion, it will take at least half a decade for facial recognition technology to come to terms with human rights and an individual's privacy.

Till then, we have to wait for industry giants like Microsoft and others to make this technology more user-friendly, transparent, and secure so that everyone can benefit from it.

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