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Privacy Rights. Is it a losing battle?

The news that Jeff Bezos may have been hacked by Saudi Arabian Whatsapp malware has once again increased the focus on privacy. Of course, most of us will struggle to sympathise with someone that with a nett worth of $124 Billion (Motherboard, Guardian, Cysberscoop, WSJ).

The public battle to protect our privacy is just getting started. Facial recognition technology is right at the forefront of this battle. In the UK, the Metropolitan Police announced that it will begin the operational use of Live Facial Recognition (LFR) technology (Met Police). They argue that it will make the Police more effective in finding suspects they are on the lookout for. It could also be useful in locating missing children.

However, no-one really believes that facial recognition will only be used for good. The industry is likely to grow to R7 Billion by 2024 (Forbes). State surveillance and commercial marketing are the 2 most obvious uses but this raises concerns for many.

State overreach

Will the state overreach and use it for more than locating wanted suspects? How effective is the technology and will false positives cause wrongful convictions? We already know that the software has a far higher error rate when it comes to identifying black people. In the USA, government tests showed that software misidentify black people at a rate 5x-10x higher than they do white people (Wired, Guardian). Software made in Asia is better at identifying Asians (Philips et al). Of course, even if the technology is perfected, some nation states may use the technology for more than locating criminal suspects. If a state is tracking the movements of its residents, that is an invasion of privacy. In China, a surveillance infrastructure is being built by the government for their social credit system (NYT).

Corporations spying on all of us

Already companies track our movements on the web and have been doing so for a long time. Some of us have thrown up some anti-tracking defences but on balance the public seems desensitised to this form of tracking (Forbes). What if companies start tracking us via facial recognition? Facebook and Google already have a massive library of photos of people, kindly supplied by us (Kapersky). However, at least in such a case, we are wilfully supplying the data even if we are ignorant of its potential use. Do we want companies knowing we are, or identifying us and our preferences as we walk into a store? We probably don't mind if a music concert scans everybody against a database of known stalkers (NYT) but should they keep a photo (and worse still identify) the non-stalkers attending? Companies can source images from cameras in public spaces when we have no choice but to provide the image and that raises many ethical concerns.

Should Facial Recognition be opposed?

The improper use of the technology should be battled but not the technology itself. The technology will become more effective and accurate. The reality is that facial recognition is just one sort of recognition out of many. Identification can take place at a distance by heart beat (MIT) or by their gait (AP News). Cameras will be able to read fingerprints (MIT) and iris patterns (The Atlantic) metres away

How should the law do?

We know that the technology is going to become much cheaper, more accurate and more pervasive. It would probably be a mistake to try and ban the use of the technology (NYT). San Fransisco banned the use of the facial recognition by police and other agencies (NYT). The State of Massachusetts is likely to follow. I am sure these bans are well intentioned, but I see them as fighting the wrong fight. In free democracies, it is probably more likely that companies will abuse the technology. The technology will be used by such companies to identify people without their consent. We have to move in public spaces after all. Waging war against the technology is not smart. Instead we have to battle the misuse of the facial recognition (The Hill) both by the state and companies.

All this goes to show that the limits of technology are being pushed everyday and the equally there are more and more opportunities for skilled people all around the world. If you need any career advise please don't hesitate to email us.

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