First, what is facial recognition?
Facial recognition technology compares existing facial contour data with those in an image or video and arrives at a true or false conclusion.
How does facial recognition help make me safer?
Let’s say you walk into a big shopping mall with your wife and two little kids. There are several hundred other people in the mall. There are four stakeholders and their perspectives:
You and your family
You would like to have a pleasant shopping experience in the mall. You and your family would like to stay assured of remaining safe within the mall.
The Shop Management
They would like to offer you a great shopping experience and would like to see you come back again. But, the management is also concerned about potential shoplifters and remains watchful.
The Mall Management
They would like to ensure the mall functions efficiently with all facilities operating at peak performance. They remain vigilant against shoplifters, criminals, and other violent people who may threaten the safety of those within the mall. Safety and security within the mall is their responsibility.
Among the hundreds, in the mall, there is one convicted pedophile (child abuser) who is walking around, unknown and unrecognized.
Would you like to know who the person is, and would you like to remain watchful and keep your children away from this person? Obviously, yes. But who is to alert you on who that person is?
The mall management would undoubtedly like to identify the person and keep a watchful eye on him at all times, so he does not commit a crime within the confines of the mall.
Once the person walks out of the mall, the police would like to keep an eye on him, would you not want that?
A serial shoplifter is walking around in the mall.
Wouldn’t the shopkeeper like to identify the person and keep a sharp lookout while he is in the shop? Same for the mall management. Any shoplifting activity causes a loss to the shopkeeper and brings ill repute to the mall since security is their purview.
Facial recognition technology can help
Were the police to record facial contours at the time of arresting any person, the data would reside in a central server. Any public camera linked to the central server can pick up random faces in a crowd and compare it with the existing database and instantly identify persons with a criminal record. It informs in real-time about the person and the nature of the crime committed previously.
It happens without any human intervention. The information is automatically relayed to the local area police or the other concerned people. In this example, the information could be passed on to the mall security when a pedophile or shoplifter enters a mall.
What are the issues involved here?
Let’s go back to the mall.
The mall management records the faces and movement of all entering the mall, including the public, shop management, its staff, and other temporary maintenance staff and logistics providers. It records everyone’s information for a specified period.
Same for the police cameras in public spaces outside the mall.
You and your family can claim a threat to privacy if the police record your family’s movement as you drive or walk into the mall. You might object to the mall, passing on your movement information to third parties.
It could be your wife, your employers, your competitors, or rival political parties. In this case, you will undoubtedly object to cameras recording and confirming your presence and tracking your movement. The government, too, may track you.
So, the question is, would you like to feel safe in the example of the pedophile scenario, or would you rather no facial recognition tracking be available which may compromise your privacy?
It’s a dilemma which is subject to much debate among common citizens across the globe, among governments and security agencies.
Artificial Intelligence and Facial Recognition
Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) is behind the automated surveillance, identification, and reporting process using big data in real-time.
China has introduced A.I in a big way and has recorded successes in correctly identifying and arresting criminals who were evading arrest. The citizens remain concerned as the government is now watching them all the time as they leave their homes to when they return. Everybody remains monitored 24×7.
However, it makes citizens vulnerable to the government’s unpopular diktats. It’s not how free societies are. Then again, if it makes citizens safer, it is welcomed by all.
A.I. has several applications that can benefit everybody. For instance, imagine walking into the airport and clearing security without being stopped at any stage. Or, walking into your workplace without having to flash your I.D. card. Or, log into your desktop or hand-held device with a mere facial scan. Or, getting admitted to a hospital and appropriately attended to despite being injured and unconscious in a road accident.
A.I. can do all of that and more; it’s how information is used that is causing concern.
Privacy policies and related laws need clear definition and implementation
Privacy of personal data and how it is used need to be the decision of the person concerned. Unless the issue is resolved, the suspicion and opposition to facial recognition using A.I will remain a contested technology.
Large countries like India have a significant number of people with criminal records roaming undetected. It remains a matter of concern. A.I. can offer effective solutions given the shortage of police personnel across the country.
How the data is used and kept safe is another matter altogether.