News. Facial recognition is a critical technology for us to debate before we deploy it all over to catch criminals, make a profit on selling the technology or using it to reduce headcount by replacing folks. San Francisco just banned it for city use, but China – and more and more the Western world – are taking on facial recognition.
San Francisco recently banned city use of facial recognition, according to TechCrunch. The ban is an accountability measure “to ensure the safe and responsible use” of surveillance tech and to allow the public to be involved in this privacy-invasive technology. So, in the future the city of San Francisco will need to seek approval to buy new surveillance devices. The ban could lead to a full accounting of such equipment in the city.
Facial recognition and surveillance is a technology that can easy be abused – though there are also pros: It can suppress civic engagement, compound discriminatory policing, and fundamentally change how we exist in public spaces taking away our freedom.
Anthropologist S.A. Applin writes on facial recognition software:
“It is those in power are, who mostly stand to profit from it. This is either through making/selling the gear, or using the tech to reduce headcount by replacing folks. This isn’t about society or even civilization, it’s about money and power.”
But money and power aren’t the only reasons behind the push to adopt facial recognition, he writes. “Cooperation is how humans have managed to survive as long as we have, and the need to categorize some people as “the other” has been happening since there have been humans. Unfortunately, misconceptions and speculations about who some of us are and how we might behave have contributed to fear and insecurity among citizens, governments, and law enforcement”
Thus our fears become another reason to invest in more “security.”
S.A. Applin also points to the fact that surveillance cameras are generating so much footage and that there are not enough people or ressources to go through them, some often when crime is spotted, the perpetrator is likely gone.
Further he underlines that “data is not an accurate replacement for community knowledge, because it can be misinterpreted and misapplied. The technology doesn’t work well enough for everyone equally and fairly, especially for those of non-white, non-CIS gender backgrounds: As one widely-cited MIT study found last year, three common facial-analysis systems showed an error rate of 0.8 percent for light-skinned men compared with 34.7 percent for dark-skinned women. For law enforcement scenarios in particular, the risks of misidentifying people could be severe.”
Chinese authorities and companies are using facial recognition to catch criminals and to monitor the population with a social credit system. It is a data dictatorship, that most Europeans and American would not want.
“Facial recognition is a critical technology for us to debate, and why growing numbers of us already wish to ban it in our society,” S.A. Applin concludes.
S. A. Applin, PhD, is an anthropologist whose research explores the domains of human agency, algorithms, AI, and automation in the context of social systems and sociability.