(Twenty-minute read)

Advanced technology no longer stands apart from society; it is becoming deeply infused in our personal and professional lives.

Perhaps as much as any advance, facial recognition raises a critical question: what role do we want this type of technology to play in everyday society?

The issues relating to facial recognition go well beyond questions of bias themselves, raising critical questions about our fundamental freedoms.

You might not think it but we are in the midst of a facial recognition technology race.

Imagine a government tracking everywhere you walked over the past month without your permission or knowledge.

Imagine a database of everyone who attended a political rally that constitutes the very essence of free speech.

Imagine the stores of a shopping mall using facial recognition to share information with each other about each shelf that you browse and the product you buy, without asking you first.

Imagine an inability to protest your government.  What if health insurance providers can track how often you eat at Burger King.

There is no shortage of tragic scenarios when such technology becomes ingrained in our society. It has vast potential to enslave society.

There could be dire consequences for citizens around the world.

So will facial recognition become part of everyday life?

This technology is actively being tested all around the world and it will only keep improving.

Presently smartphones utilize sensors and accelerometers to track our every behaviour, understanding exactly when we wake up in the morning, where our offices are, where we shop for groceries, what our interests are and how we spend our time.

We are willingly giving up our personal information that these “free” services offer, then turn around and sell for profit, all for a split-second hit of dopamine when someone “likes” a picture we post on Facebook.

Facial recognition surveillance is powerful not only because it is highly accurate, but also because of how discreet the set up is. You don’t realize when it’s surveilling you or your family. It runs in the shadows creating no noises, you don’t’ walk through any detectors, you don’t sign anything, and you don’t press your fingertips against a pad.

It just happens.

Increasingly it will define the decade ahead.

It can’t be left to tech companies to limit the way government agencies use facial recognition and other technology. Facial recognition technology raises issues that go to the heart of fundamental human rights.

Protections like privacy and freedom of expression.

So let me ask you.

  • Should law enforcement use of facial recognition be subject to human oversight and controls, including restrictions on the use of unaided facial recognition technology as evidence of an individual’s guilt or innocence of a crime?
  • Similarly, should we ensure there are civilian oversight and accountability for the use of facial recognition as part of governmental national security technology practices?
  • What types of legal measures can prevent the use of facial recognition for racial profiling and other violations of rights while still permitting the beneficial uses of the technology?
  • Should the use of facial recognition by public authorities or others be subject to minimum performance levels on accuracy?
  • Should the law require that retailers post visible notice of their use of facial recognition technology in public spaces?
  • Should the law require that companies obtain prior consent before collecting individuals’ images for facial recognition? If so, in what situations and places should this apply? And what is the appropriate way to ask for and obtain such consent?
  • Should we ensure that individuals have the right to know what photos have been collected and stored that have been identified with their names and faces?
  • Should we create processes that afford legal rights to individuals who believe they have been misidentified by a facial recognition system?

The questions listed above – and no doubt others – will become important public policy issues around the world, requiring active engagement by governments, academics, tech companies and civil society internationally.

Issues relating to facial recognition go well beyond the borders of Countries.

Given the global nature of the technology itself, there likely will also be a growing need for interaction and even coordination between national regulators across borders.

  • The need for government leadership does not absolve technology companies of our own ethical responsibilities.
  • The future is not simple. We, therefore, need a principled approach for facial recognition technology, embodied in law, that outlasts a single administration or the important political issues of a moment.
  • As in so many times in the past, we need to ensure that new inventions serve our democratic freedoms pursuant to the rule of law. Given the global sweep of this technology, we’ll need to address these issues internationally, in no small part by working with and relying upon many other respected voices. We will all need to work together, and we look forward to doing our part.

It’s apparent that other new technologies will raise similar issues in the future.

This makes it even more important that we use this moment to get the direction right.

Public authorities may rely on flawed or biased technological approaches to decide who to track, investigate or even arrest for a crime.

Governments may monitor the exercise of political and other public activities in ways that conflict with longstanding expectations in democratic societies, chilling citizens’ willingness to turn out for political events and undermining our core freedoms of assembly and expression.

Similarly, companies may use facial recognition to make decisions without human intervention that affect our eligibility for credit, jobs or purchases.

All these scenarios raise important questions of privacy, free speech, freedom of association and even life and liberty.

If we don’t stop or regulate it now, it will be more difficult to reel in after it’s already deployed on every lamppost.

The government needs to play an important role in regulating facial recognition technology.

As a general principle, it seems more sensible to ask an elected government to regulate companies than to ask unelected companies to regulate such a government.

After all, even if one or several tech companies alter their practices, problems will remain if others do not. There will always be debates about the details, and the details matter greatly.

The surveillance data can be deeper and more extensive than any of us understand, “trade a little of your privacy and we’ll keep you safer” motto.

You could say that education is the crux to this resistance and once society recognizes the overwhelming benefits offered as a result of facial recognition we will be able to move past the mental hurdles.

But the ability to use the cloud to connect all this data and facial recognition technology with live cameras that capture images of people’s faces and seek to identify them – in more places and in real-time will lead to a gender and racial bias developing because some facial recognition technology will not like you at the moment of recognition.

Facial recognition will require the public and private sectors alike to step up – and to act as the General Data Protection Regulation in the European Union.

It seems especially important to pursue thoughtful government regulation of facial recognition technology, given its broad societal ramifications and potential for abuse.

Today’s advanced facial recognition in the 21st century comes along with deep learning.

The algorithm compares different facial features as against an image encompassed within a database. It calculates facial parameters such as mouth, nose, eyes, lips and their relative intensity.

So smile.  You might see what is under the  – A human.

We’re Being Blinded to the Danger of Facial Recognition. A perpetual lineup.

If we don’t implement legal restrictions on face recognition, the future looks

like a Chinese-style surveillance state, one that violates our right to privacy,

our right to anonymity in public, and our right to free speech.

All human comments appreciated. All like clicks and abuse chucked in the bin.