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Facial recognition will soon be everywhere. Are we prepared?
Dylan CurranTue 21 May 2019 08.10 ED
Some companies are already testing this new technology, but it raises questions about how surveillance can be abused
San Francisco became the first major city to ban the use of facial recognition technology by police and government agencies on 14 May.
Imagine this: you walk into work and the camera above the doors scans your face, opening them seamlessly without you lifting a finger. You sit down at your computer and it instantly unlocks. Oh, but you need to run to the pharmacist at lunch. You walk up to a camera, and your prescription is deposited in front of you. You go home from work, a camera blinks, and your door unlocks as your hand touches the handle. You look at your face in the mirror, and it tells you to moisturize. It’s going to be a hot day tomorrow, so it recommends you wear sun-cream. It’ll even order it for you (next-day delivery from Amazon of course). Sounds pretty good right?
Now imagine this: you walk down the street and a pair of policemen stare at you. Their body cameras flash red and they instantly pull their guns and tell you to drop to the ground, you’re under arrest. You comply and after several days in jail, they let you know you were misidentified as a violent criminal on the loose due to the 1.3% margin of error. Regardless of your innocence, you’re in the system. Now wherever you go, cameras that capture you will automatically increase the “danger score” of the area and alert police to watch out for you. Even worse, as you enter stores, the facial recognition system lets the staff know a recently arrested individual has entered the building. They stare suspiciously at you now. Doesn’t sound so good? Facial recognition already has these problems with people of color.
As fantastical as either of those scenarios might seem, it’s quite possible that this will be the future we’re headed towards. Companies have a neverending appetite to use powerful new software to make their customer’s life easier and governments persistently feel the need to misuse emerging technologies for the greater good.