USA, May. 28, 2018: The developments taking place in the field of technology are getting faster day by day, and a great example of this is facial recognition technology, whose efficiency is impressive. Indeed, computers can now recognize faces better than us, human beings. In such circumstances, some are raising concerns related to privacy and fairness.
The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU, considers that facial recognition systems can pose a threat to privacy. This is why, this week, the ACLU decided to convince Amazon that continuing to provide its Rekognition technology to U.S. Police forces would put society in danger, as the software’s user guide bears too much resemblance with what we could expect from a manual for authoritarian surveillance.
Amazon’s reaction was categorical: the way certain technologies may be used or misused by some should not prevent us from using technologies at all, as this would affect our own quality of life, too.
Matt Cagle, who contributes to the works of the ACLU as a technology and civil liberties lawyer, considers that Amazon’s software has opened the door for great danger. Protesters and immigrants could be wrongly targeted, and the facial recognition software would easily spy on specific neighborhoods and thus allowing for discrimination between citizens.
Therefore, Matt Cagle points out the necessity to organize a public debate in order to guarantee better transparency. And this needs to be done before continuing to provide the technology.
The lack of transparency and the potential misuse of the facial recognition technology are not the only problems. Facial recognition is also considered to be unreliable. In terms of accuracy, claims Privacy International, we have been able to notice that the rate of “false positives” is frightening (nearly 90%). In reality, the software may match different faces and thus make regular citizens appear as criminals in police files and records.
What police forces generally agree on is that the technology, even though imperfect at this stage, is getting better quickly and that it allows to ensure safety and security during public events and to spot potential terrorists.
In China, however, no debate took place and local police forces have already used this tool to proceed to the arrest of suspects (even at concerts). China is currently investing significant amounts of money on facial recognition and using such tools with great excitement.
The reasoning put forward by both European and American technology firms and law enforcement institutions is that carrying on with experiments in this field is necessary, otherwise we might be left with no other choice than Chinese products made by Chinese companies, that will certainly not prioritize civil liberties or privacy considerations when developing their softwares.
The reasoning may be right, in itself, but Amazon’s history already showed us how little importance is given to citizen’s privacy and how much attention, on the contrary, is given to their actions and words (remember when one of Amazon’s Echo devices recorded a casual conversation going on in a household and sent it elsewhere).