The United States is currently facing a massive dilemma over the morality of facial recognition and surveillance technology.
After San Francisco banned city agencies from using the technology, Ohio representative Jim Jordan said that facial identification systems could be infringing on constitutional liberties, including those laid out in the First and Fourth Amendments.
Jordan is not alone either. Given that the technology is still far from perfect and can fail at times, using it to convict individuals of crimes can be a slippery slope. While many government representatives are clamoring for regulation, centralized behemoths like Amazon are vehemently pushing proposals to advance facial recognition for civic uses. While Amazon’s shareholders have voted against this, for now, it remains to be seen if this can last permanently.
China: The Facial Recognition King
However, while the US is still grappling with the implications of omnipresent surveillance, a few countries have already started using the technology for law enforcement and other activities. China, in particular, is rumored to have the most powerful facial recognition system in existence, especially since the government has recorded facial data from nearly all of its citizens.
The Chinese are using facial recognition technology for a host of different use cases, including at public restrooms for toilet paper dispensing. While this may seem innocuous on the surface, there is naturally a much darker side to this too — one that perfectly epitomizes how facial recognition could be detrimental to our privacy.
While China is already using facial recognition to convict criminals, it is now also using the technology to automatically fine citizens for minor offenses such as jaywalking. The initiative, launched in 2017 across three major cities, has reportedly fined hundreds of thousands of drivers and pedestrians for flouting road rules. Even foreigners cannot escape identification and surveillance. Merely going through a Chinese immigration checkpoint is enough to be automatically included in the database.
False Positives Galore?
Even Chinese facial recognition technology is far from perfect though.
In 2018, the automated system incorrectly flagged a famous businesswoman for jaywalking simply because the cameras had picked up her face from an advertisement on the side of a bus. While this error was caught quickly due to the high profile nature of the individual, there is no telling how many other false positives or negatives have been caused as a result of China’s widespread use of the technology.
Even if we set aside the problem of false matches though, trusting governments or corporations such as Facebook to keep everyone’s facial data confidential is hardly the best approach.
While there certainly are applications where facial recognition can be invaluable, it is prudent to find a more robust and secure way to store this sensitive data. A trustless and decentralized approach would likely be a good starting point. Thankfully, the cryptocurrency and blockchain industry has pioneered these paradigms for the past decade and could be our last frontier for privacy.
Do you think that facial recognition is best paired with decentralized technologies like blockchain to guarantee individual freedoms? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
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