What are the dangers of facial recognition databases?
Consider the little effort it requires to capture a face and how much personal information can be associated with that picture.
Today, we can do little to prevent someone capturing an image of us, whether done inconspicuously in the distance, through CCTV implementation, or even simply being in the background of someone’s selfie at a top tourist destination. We tend to forget, or ignore, that we are constantly being photographed, but what happens to those images long after we forget about them?
In light of technological developments, the capabilities to store our images and manipulate them are endless. Resultantly, trust and misidentification are abounding issues when considering facial recognition databases.
Facebook and the FBI are global heavyweights when it comes to such a practice. Facebook is a treasure trove of facial recognition opportunities with 300 million photos uploaded daily, while the FBI are spearheading developments at a government level, implementing a facial recognition database that is expected to include 53 million faces by the end of this year.
Although Facebook’s resource is currently private, we can’t assume preserving the sensitive facial imprints of its users will remain a priority and that the social media giant will refrain from distributing our pictures to corporate companies, conglomerates, businesses, government and law enforcement.
Meanwhile at the FBI, employees submitting their photo for background checks will now have their image stored on the agency’s database, even if the said employee has no criminal history. Worryingly, at a later stage that image could arise in a criminal search resulting in the innocent party being implicated through a false positive.
In its campaign over these privacy concerns, digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation has uncovered research which indicates that the percentage of false positives increases in line with the size of the database being inspected. With London having the most CCTV cameras in the world per person, this statistic raises concern with a gold mine of images is amassed yearly giving Facebook a run for its money.
Even if US or UK governments pledge responsibility for these databases, hackers – malicious groups, drug cartels, terrorists, indeed anyone with the ability to infiltrate such software – are another cause for concern. Unknowns can easily uncover where you live, where you work and your financial status by tapping into any facial recognition database.
And aside from executive and judicial interference, facial recognition databases infringe massively on privacy. Advertisers could potentially target more aggressively; imagine a JC Decaux billboard scanning your face to determine what ads to show based on your digital footprint? Annoying, invasive and even embarassing, but quickly becoming a possibility.
The aggregation of faces to databases is perhaps most troublesome as everyone is fair game. Collecting faces does not require permission or interaction and faces cannot be changed like pins or passwords, allowing private information to be instantly and permanently accessible. Through facial recognition databases, it seems we are jeopardising our right to privacy in favour of technology.