Does Facial Recognition’s Benefits Override Privacy?

Danita Dyess | CCLA | June 12, 2019

Facial recognition saves lives. It helps customers maximize data tags by providing fast image sorting. It even assists law enforcement officers catch criminals. However, this technology has a downside. It compromises your right to privacy, an issue at the core of the U.S. Constitution.

Facial recognition is a sophisticated technology that uses scans to detect faces. Images and videos are used to identify a specific person through the recognition and analyzation of hair color, moods, and the geometrical composition of your face. However, it is not a new innovation, just a more popular one. Diverse industries representing retail, government, healthcare, education, and even entertainment use facial recognition.

A bill that acknowledges a citizen’s right to an expectation of privacy is currently moving through the California State Legislature. The current law specifies the intent of legislation to create policies and procedures pertaining to issues regarding downloading. The storage of data recorded by police officers wearing a body-worn camera is also a concern.

AB 1215 (Ting) would stop a law enforcement agency or official from installing or using biometric surveillance systems related to an officer’s camera or data originating from an officer’s camera. A violation of this law means citizens could file actions for equity or declaratory relief.

Proponents of facial recognition technology cite its numerous applications. According to a post published by The Washington Post on June 10, 2019, “JetBlue has begun using facial recognition to board certain flights. The technical innovation makes your passport and ticket obsolete. Humanitarian groups rely on it to identify victims of sex trafficking.

However, privacy and civil rights advocates staunchly oppose the unlimited use the technology. Some nonprofit organizations, citizen’s rights groups, and attorneys warn that facial recognition is racially biased. In 2016, the California Department of Justice said that facial recognition is biased especially in the developmental stages.

As a government surveillance tool, facial recognition is ubiquitous. The Perpetual Lineup, a study conducted by Georgetown Law in 2016 revealed that the average person is probably in a criminal face recognition network. The study said, “And we don’t know how any of these systems –local, state, or federal –affect racial and ethnic minorities.” Tracking people’s movements in this kind of environment could result in warrantless searches.

In business, facial recognition and eye tracking can serve as marketing tools. Corporations mimic the behavior of government as they track customers’ movements. Google and Facebook are at the forefront of the issue and users are subjected to constant monitoring. Marketing pros predict artificial intelligence will provide even greater applications in the future.

Privacy should be the primary concern. However, the most important aspect is the potential to subdue freedom of speech. Some advocates are concerned that facial recognition would chill speech as the government could use it to identify individuals at public rallies and demonstrations, or in their day-to-day movements. And since facial recognition software can be paired with any camera or footage, the CCLA strongy feels that the language of AB 1215 is too narrow in its application to police body cameras and should be extended to all government surveillance devices, such as Police Observations Devices (PODs), hundreds of which are installed throughout California’s major cities.

To read the CCLA’s support letter addressing the aforementioned concerns, click here.

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