The latest Los Angeles concert of Taylor Swift reportedly had a ‘Sci-Fi’ affair going on.

The 5 time Grammy winner Taylor Swift’s security team made use of Biometrics to weed out known stalkers.

As reported by Rolling Stones, the artist placed a kiosk set-up which featured a display show of rehearsal highlights which grabbed the attention of her fans. Unknown to the audience, the kiosk had a hidden facial recognition sensor deployed which scanned their faces, and then matched them against a database of the singer’s known stalkers’ images and police databases.

Why are the people mad?

This lead to an upsurge against the use of biometrics. A very valid yet pressing question has arose that what is the implied meaning. How will this impact the use of large scale implementation and usage of biometrics? How safe and ethical is its use? What goes around with an individual’s privacy that is being exploited here? The use of these recognition systems gave birth to a number of burning questions regarding individuals’ privacy. How is the data collected, managed and stored? What if people’s privacy is breached in the process? What assures the safety of people’s images’ privacy and what will they be used for?

A lot of questions with very less answers.

The use of this technology has become very common around the world. iPhone uses the FaceID feature to unlock a phone. Facebook has also invested heavily in the same technology and their feature auto-tag uses Al to match the faces of your friends automatically to any photo you upload.

The expansion of mainstream services and outlets using it allows for the gradual acceptance among common public. People are starting to see it as a convenient product and accept it for their everyday life use. The technology is not bad.

However, it can be used for exploitation and privacy invasion actions as it did in Los Angeles at Swift’s concert.

Note from Critics

Critics of the technology are very concerned about the malpractices which are attached. Question: Can one be found on a database anywhere in the world? Very possibly, yes. It is believed by the Electronic Freedom Foundation that the FBI has a database of over 14 million facial images already. It also plans to expand it by more than 50 million. The UK police also has around 18 million mugshots on file. Once they have been identified they stay there. Since the characteristics of one’s face similar to fingerprint, do not alter or evolve!

Companies in Europe seek permission of an individual before they use facial recognition technology for any commercial use. This is the reason why Facebook has not offered its ‘Moments’, a photo-sharing app in that region. As it does not provide any opt-in facility. Europe’s approach has been adopted by just two US states namely Texas and Illinois. In the UK, it is stipulated by the General Data Protection Regulation that one has to be informed when they are under any sort of camera surveillance. Further, who is scrutinising them Under GDPR, People also have a right to request for access to the images recorded.

It is a tough task to figure out how the recorded images are being used and if the privacy rights are even being respected or not. The genie of digital scrutiny has escaped the bottle and many fear that regulators will not be able to bottle it back ever!

Issues with the Technology

The issue complicates when the fact is added that the technology of facial recognition is highly flawed. It has been reported in recent months that many biases and discrepancies have been found in the data captured. They are working more efficiently for white men than women, and has been more successful in accurately identifying those with lighter complexions than the colored ones.

Researchers in the tech industry are working to fix the bugs in the technology and address the issues faced, and reportedly it is progressing significantly. But deficiencies still remain in the system.

The immaturity of the technology in relation asks the broad question. Even if the defects found are fixed, and the technology starts to work fairly for all, potential failures will still remain failing it. Like many Al technologies, facial recognition also typically has some error rate present even though it operated unbiasedly. The issues related to it also go far beyond raising the questions of individual freedom.

Moving on…

The issues raised against facial recognition and biometrics in general go deep to the heart of basic protection of individual rights. Especially of freedom of expression and privacy. This amplify the accountability on tech firms who produce sensitive products. Technology calls for some form of regulation by the governments. Development of standards of acceptable and fair usage is a need. It is required by both the public and private sectors to step and act alike for ethical usage of facial recognition systems.

With passing time face recognition technology will become norm of the tech sector. The ethical debate expects to fall aside since convenience will override everything else. As it did for GPS tracking and smartphones’ debate which died down as the convenience attached was too large to forego.

One thing can be assured, that biometrics particularly facial recognition systems, will alter the way privacy is seen!

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