Ray Walsh, Digital Privacy Expert
Facial recognition has the potential to cause massive privacy violations, and its use causes massive risks that can affect people long after they are exposed to the technology. This is concerning because a recent survey conducted by ProPrivacy.com of 1019 liberal and conservative Americans – revealed that 55% or respondents believe facial recognition should be welcomed into society “as it can have a positive impact on security and safety.” That figure was even higher among conservatives, 63% of whom believe facial recognition should be welcomed with open arms.
Right now, facial recognition in the West is primarily used for niche purposes such as unlocking phones, gaining access to gymnasiums without the need for staff, or to monitor travelers boarding airplanes.
However, as time passes we are seeing the technology being rolled out in more and more places, and it seems like it’s just a matter of time before far-reaching surveillance practices experienced in countries like China arrive in the West. This is troubling because it reveals a massive disconnect between what most Americans want and what they are in the process of getting.
When asked whether they support the notion of freedom, 99% of survey respondents – across both sides of the political spectrum – agreed that they did. This is interesting because what those respondents seem not to realize is that facial recognition is a tool for oppression that stands to erode their privacy and with it basic human rights necessary for freedom to exist.
Facial recognition allows citizens to be tracked and monitored, and whenever this kind of surveillance occurs, historically it has always lead to self-censorship. All around the world in oppressive regimes, freedom of the press and freedom within civil society is inextricably tied to people’s ability to communicate honestly and openly. Without fail, monitored citizens opt not to express their inner concerns.
In countries where surveillance is widespread, personal freedom is always sacrificed in favor of protecting the status quo. And, citizens who once would have spoken up against perceived abuse at the hands of authorities keep schtum for fear of being singled out. When big brother is watching, humans behave differently meaning that their freedom to live as they might otherwise have is taken away.
This potential for facial recognition to erode Americans’ freedom may seem like a far-off dystopian nightmare or an episode of Black Mirror. However, the reality is that we are already seeing police forces and customs agents enforcing this technology in the UK and the US. Facial recognition is slowly seeping into our daily lives. And, as people become desensitized to its use, the technology will spread like a plague onto street corners, into office blocks, outside of sports stadiums, and even into the home.
In the era of smart cities, facial recognition is touted as a novel method for achieving superior levels of convenience. 5G technology will permit radically large amounts of big data to be communicated around urban spaces, and, as a result, facial recognition will become pervasive. This will create novel ways to track consumers as they move around and interact with reactive advertising billboards, or communicate with AI brand representatives.
Retail experiences like Amazon Go will cause consumers to be served personalized adverts and deals as they move around stores, and as a result, corporations will be able to coerce consumers into making purchases by exploiting their social status and emotional state of mind. And, for every “benefit” that consumers accept into their lives – the ubiquitous desensitization process will permit government authorities to encroach more and more into people’s lives.
ProPrivacy.com’s recent survey of American citizens reveals that 54% are willing to sacrifice a little of their freedom for a feeling of safety. The problem is that there is no evidence that invading people’s privacy creates safety at all.
During the period between 911 and the Edward Snowden revelations, alphabet agencies in the US illegally monitored US citizens en masse using PRISM. Not once did that overreaching surveillance lead to US authorities successfully preventing a terrorist attack. Similar stats are true in France, the UK, and elsewhere in the world.
58% of conservatives who live in an area that has been exposed to a mass shooting agree that they don’t need to worry about their privacy because they have nothing to hide. What those citizens don’t seem to realize, is that this sentiment creates the circumstances necessary for their children to be forced to live with constant tracking, and as a result with higher levels of self-censorship.
This is interesting because 65% of Americans agree that they are not willing to sacrifice some of their children's civil liberties to save lives. And, yet this is exactly what citizens are agreeing to if they allow pervasive tracking to be rolled out on their streets.
Every time that an agency such as US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) begins using facial recognition AI, citizens’ biometric data is hoovered up by the authorities. As a result, the unique digital markers necessary to track citizens elsewhere – in subways, at bus stops, or in shopping malls – are added to the government’s database.
In Brazil and India, this kind of surveillance is already being rolled out. And, unless US citizens stand up and take notice it will be their neighborhoods that are next. For US citizens who believe in the right to carry a gun to combat the potential tyranny of a runaway government – the disconnect between a future in which authorities never stop tracking them, and a future where freedom rules the day – is like chalk and cheese. And, failure to take a stand against this gradual move towards a surveillance state is a slippery slope towards a world in which citizens are interfered with constantly without consent or a legal rationale.
For more information please visit www.proprivacy.com