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Facing the consequences of facial recognition

By Jonathan Yue Apr. 28, 2021


Imagine waking up to messages informing you that you have been incorrectly identified as a suspect of a terrorist attack in your home country half a globe away. This is what then-Brown University student Amara Majeed experienced following the bombing attacks in Sri Lanka in April of 2019. The cause of this misidentification? Facial recognition.


Facial recognition, the technology that can match a human face to those in a given database

Facial recognition, the technology that can match a human face to those in a given database, is not just for opening smartphones; recent breakthroughs have increased its usage in various fields. However, the application of facial recognition technology, particularly in law enforcement, is concerning.


The obvious criticism is that the technology is still not mature. A study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology testing 189 different facial recognition algorithms found that Asian and African American people are up to 100 times more likely to be misidentified than Caucasians. A possible explanation is that, within the data sets that are used to train the algorithm, not all demographics are equally represented.


A powerful government with a large database can track all of its citizens without their knowledge.

Even if the technology is perfected, facial recognition may raise ethical and philosophical questions about the nature of privacy. With facial recognition, anonymity will no longer be a possibility. A powerful government with a large database can track all of its citizens without their knowledge. In the U.S., a tool that exhibits bias can exacerbate the existing racial prejudice in law enforcement. During last year’s Black Lives Matter protests, the New York Police Department utilized facial recognition to identify and raid the house of activist Derrick Ingram, who allegedly shouted into a police officer’s ear with a bullhorn. The Baltimore Police Department deployed facial recognition to arrest protestors in the aftermath of the death of Freddie Gray, leading activists to urge protestors not to post images or videos of demonstrations online.


There is currently no federal regulation over the use of facial recognition in the U.S.

There is currently no federal regulation over the use of facial recognition in the U.S. In 2020, Amazon and Microsoft announced that they will no longer sell their technology. Many local governments, including the cities of San Francisco and Oakland, have banned the use of facial recognition by public officials. In the European Union, legislators unveiled a proposal that would ban “unacceptable” uses of artificial intelligence, including facial recognition by law enforcement.


The balance between safety and privacy is always a delicate one. Perhaps facial recognition, just like many previous advancements, will inevitably alter society and we will have to learn to live with it. However, before we can harness the power of facial recognition with well-placed limitations, letting loose the industry to their self-imposed regulations threatens the public’s civil liberties.

 

About the Contributor

Jonathan Yue

School News Editor


Jonathan is a senior. During his free time, he enjoys going on photo shoots with friends.

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