Scared of facial recognition?

Should facial recognition be regulated - or even stopped?

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Scared of facial recognition?

By Daniel J. McLaughlin

Whether it is tagging photos on Facebook or used to catch criminals, facial recognition is a growing technology - and as it develops, there are growing concerns.

Critics call the technology an "intrusive menace" that is prone to errors and bias.

However, others say that governments should not slow down or stop the use of facial recognition.

The Claim

The Guardian's John Naughton says that we should be "very scared" of facial recognition, calling the technology an "intrusive menace".

He describes the problems of the "corporate and authoritarian tool", saying it is "flaky, prone to errors, false positives and bias".

Naughton argues: "More importantly, it is a pathologically intrusive, privacy-eroding technology that can be used for general surveillance in combination with public video cameras.

"And in those applications it doesn’t require the knowledge, consent or participation of the subject.

He adds: "It can – and will – be used to create general, suspicionless surveillance systems: Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon on steroids."

Naughton says there are two options on how to treat facial recognition: ban its use for civilian purposes, or regulate it.

The Counterclaim

However, Amitai Etzioni, a professor of international affairs at The George Washington University, says that facial recognition should not be banned.

In an article for The Hill, he argues that the fear behind the technology is "based largely on what they fear facial recognition will lead to not on observations of what it does".

Etzioni writes: "There may be no way to address the overarching fears all new surveillance technologies raise. But major concerns can be addressed without slowing the use of facial recognition."

He suggests that there should be regulation on how police use the technology, arguing that it should be used to identify suspects; and not solely as a sufficient cause for arrest or conviction.

He adds that governments should ensure that facial recognition is used properly - but not ban it nor slow it down.

The Facts

The problem with facial recognition in the UK is that it is not currently very good. For instance, research from the University of Essex found that the technology is mistakenly targeting four out of five innocent people as wanted suspects.

A report, commissioned by Scotland Yard, revealed that facial recognition is 81 per cent inaccurate. It also concludes that it is "highly possible" that the system would be found unlawful if challenged in court.

Facial recognition has been trialled by the Metropolitan Police. They carried out eight trials in London between 2016 and 2018. These resulted in a 96 per cent rate of "false positives", where the tech wrongly alerted police about a match to a photo in its database, the Independent reports.

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