Why Facial Recognition is a Threat to Privacy: Government Going Rogue

Facial Recognition: Invasion of Privacy

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Carnegie Mellon University has developed special glasses to make the wearer unrecognizable, when under surveillance. Similarly, anti facial recognition masks are also becoming popular. But, the regular masks that are worn to protect ourselves against the Novel Covid-19 are not anti facial recognition. When a person is wearing a regular mask, he or she could be easily recognized with their eyes and eyebrows. Apart from these innovations to protect us from being recognized, there are a few things that we can do to help ourselves. First, we have to be very careful about what we share on the social media platform. Many personal photos, names and other personal details, no matter how small they are can be turned against us by enabling an easy identity theft and hacking into our bank accounts. Apps like Facebook and Google+ asks the permission of the users before enabling facial recognition; it is better to opt-out of this option declining the permission to facial recognition. The internet of things devices in our houses (like ipads, video systems and Xboxes) must be operated with caution. Frequently, such IoT devices have their face recognition turned on; it is better to turn off the face recognition from them. A secure router helps in protecting the network and the connected devices from face recognition.

Is facial recognition against privacy?

Let us first define privacy. Privacy is the freedom from public attention, observation, disturbance and unauthorized intrusion. It is the right to control one’s self-information and how it is used by the third parties. Our face prints are something that is considered to be private. So, automatically the usage of the face prints is a breach of the right to privacy.

The following are the problems that pose a threat to privacy:-

1. Security:-

The facial signatures that are collected and stored (often without the permission of the people) can be used for illegal purposes. Mistakes can happen due to a glitch in the system or the software itself. The identities of the people are confused amongst each other. Hackers might extract such facial data and sell it to criminals, who would want to use it for all possible malpractices. Facial recognition might also lead to harassment because it makes people vulnerable by giving out information to the interested parties about who they exactly are.

2. No track of who has access:-

The popularity of facial recognition seems to be ever-increasing. At this rate, the facial signatures are recorded in so many places that it will become near impossible to have a track of who has got access to them. This is more dangerous than it appears at first sight.

3. Change of ownership:-

In reality, the actual face is owned by the person who has the face. This ownership extends to the person’s digital face, but this ownership is shared or transferred with the social media apps when the person signs up with it. This makes hackers track down the facial signatures and sell it to the interested parties.

4. Mixed up identities

Law enforcement departments of various countries are announcing that facial recognition helps them to identify the criminals on the loose. But, sadly, this technology is not 100% accurate; this, in turn, leads to the innocent people being recognized as criminals. Innocent people suffer unnecessarily.

5. Impossible to be anonymous:-

With government and other entities constantly tracking the whereabouts of the people and what they are doing, it becomes impossible to be anonymous. A person who does not want to be tracked is not always a criminal. It is a fundamental right of a person to be anonymous. There are instances where innocent people were arrested just because they did not want to be tracked. This is a cruel injustice.

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Popular uses of facial recognition technology

The following are the popular uses of face recognition that is put to “innocent purposes” (which many say is very rare to find):-

1. Access control

Face recognition technology can be used to gain access to personal devices such as mobile phones, cars, residence, etc. It helps in providing access only to the owner of such properties. One can be sure that devices can be accessed only by them or by those persons authorized by the person. The facial recognition can even recognize people who have undergone some sort of plastic surgery to change their appearance.

2. Attendance control

People would find it difficult to cheat with attendances in teaching sessions, seminars, etc. with face recognition technology monitoring and verifying the true identity of the person. Proxies in colleges would become a blurred memory with this technology acting as the line of defence of the teaching staff. It also makes sure that discipline and order are maintained in the teaching session. Detentions and other forms of punishments would be aimed only at the mischief doers as the technology tells the teacher who exactly is the trouble maker.

3. Banking

Breaking into banks, stealing the deposits, hacking the customer bank accounts have become a massive war against which the governments and banks are fighting endlessly. These safety issues at banks have created the necessity for a multilayered authentication process. The authentication processes usually involve two or sometimes even three steps, increasing the customer discomfort with such a long process. The solution to this is believed to come with face recognition technology. Quick recognition of the faces would verify whether the user is a customer of the bank and the owner of the account. This would save time and the efforts involved in reducing fraudulent activities.

4. Customs offices

Face recognition technology is said to be useful in the customs office at the airports to have control over who comes and goes out of the country. The passengers are taken a quick snapshot and using the face recognition software, they are verified with the snapshots of when they entered the airport. This speeds up the airport process. In the US airports, such verified pictures and facial data of the passengers are deleted within 12 hours after the verification.

Is facial recognition technology a threat to humanity?

Human rights activists all around the world have been expressing their concerns regarding the facial recognition technology because it violates many fundamental rights that all human beings have. The reasons for their concerns are as follows.

1. Surveillance

To have evidence against those who commit crimes, the government favours having track of every move that people make, where they go and what they do. The technology gives the authority the likelihood of tracking the daily life of the people by taking monitoring to the next level.

This surveillance is done through CCTV cameras.

2. Regulatory framework

There is no proper legal or regulatory framework to monitor the activities of face recognition and surveillance in most countries. The lack of legislation may lead to the gathering of the images of people without their consent or knowledge. This may, in turn, lead to the abuse of the people by using the images and information collected for unethical purposes.

3. Surveillance must be necessary and proportionate

One of the well known human rights principles is that surveillance must be necessary and proportionate. This principle was recognized and was reminded by the organizations in the United Nations to the London Policing Ethics Panel. By necessary, we mean that surveillance must be done only for dangerous crime situations, and it must not work at any cost barge into the fundamental rights and liberty of the people. The excessive use of such surveillance and face recognition software by the government represents the total lack of trust that it has on the citizens.

4. Right to privacy

Even when in public places, our right to privacy should not be violated. It means that we cannot do anything, go anywhere without the government or other bodies watching our activities. In some places, people got arrested for wearing caps and hats to prevent being face recognized. It is the choice of the people whether they want to be face recognized. The law cannot arrest them for choosing not to be face recognized.

5. Consent of the citizens

There is no clear and detailed information about facial recognition technology. This, in turn, means that surveillance, face recognition, recording the data and analyzing them is done without the consent of the citizens. The citizens are not allowed to give consent, and thus, the control of the ways that the government uses their images are not under their control.

6. Algorithm bias

Many research and studies have found that algorithms trained on a racially biased set of data, it often misidentifies people of colour. This has lead to wrongful accusations and unlawful arrests. In China, the images of the lawbreakers taken from the face recognition soft wares are publically shown as a form of punishment and as a warning to others on what happens when a law is broken.

Facial recognition technology

The facial recognition system uses a technology that is used to recognize human faces. The technology uses biometrics to map the facial features of people from a photo or a video. This is then compared with the database containing all the known faces to find a match. The facial recognition technology verifies the personal identities of different people by posing a threat to privacy and human rights. This technology can be used for marketing, surveillance and even to the extent of spotting criminals and keeping a watch on them for the safety of the people.

Since facial recognition technology can be used by companies for marketing, it has its market. This market is estimated to be $7.7 billion by the year 2022. The marketing is growing fast; it was a mere $4 billion in the year 2017, and the estimates for the year 2022 are quite high.

How does it work?

People recognize the faces of the other known human beings by the structure of their eyes, nose, ears, the overall shape of the face, the skin color and sometimes even by height and weight. The facial recognition technology works similarly, but it views the human face and processes merely as data, and it works on an algorithmic scale. This data can be stored and be accessed.

The following are the necessary steps that all facial recognition technology follows:-

  1. The facial recognition software captures the faces from a video or a photograph. It does not matter if it is an individual or a group of faces in the photo or video. It also does not matter if the person whose picture is captured is looking elsewhere, somewhere ahead or sometimes straight into the camera.
  2. The facial recognition software takes in the geometry of the face. Essential aspects of the face that are recorded are:
    1. The distance from the forehead to the chin
    1. The distance between the eyes, etc.

These are called facial landmarks. Sixty-eight such facial landmarks are recognized in a face by the facial recognition software. It creates a mathematical formula for the face. Thus, a unique facial signature is formulated for each of the recorded faces. The facial signatures are not affected by obstructions such as spectacles, beard, moustache, an artificial tan, etc.

  • The facial signatures are then matched with the known faces from a database.


Facial recognition technology is just another innovation in the field of technology made by the brilliant brains of the world. The only problem in such innovations is that it is not always put to good uses; hackers try to steal identities, governments trying to grab the fundamental rights from the people, and so on. Proper legislation is required to monitor technology.

More detailed information must be given to the people before they are recognized by the software. Consent of the people under surveillance and face recognition must be obtained. Unnecessary intrusion into the privacy of the people must be avoided. There should be a proper governing body that has a hold over the business firms that use the technology for marketing. The results of identity from the face recognition software must be cross-checked to prevent unlawful arrests and general confusion of the identities. People must be educated on the rights that they have as human beings and on how to react, where to file a complaint when their rights are denied or violated.

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