Facial recognition systems: a toss-up between security and privacy?

Facial recognition systems: a toss-up between security and privacy?
The capital city of Scotland, Edinburgh, recently announced that they have finalized the details of a citywide plan to upgrade their existing surveillance system. Approximately US$1.5 million will be spent replacing analog cameras with HD digital ones in order to provide clear video footage that can be used to lower the incidence of minor public offenses as well as manage crowd safety and monitor protests that might occur around the parliament.

This new system is just part one of the city's big plan to integrate surveillance equipment around the city, including the ones used on buses, trams, the council itself, and traffic management systems. Digital cameras equipped with facial recognition software will be deployed; thus, empowering local authorities with the ability to identify individuals by scanning their faces and matching the information with the city's database. Car license plates can also be captured on camera for future investigative purposes.

As the system will allow for the tracking of residents and their movements in their everyday lives without their knowledge, this brought up concerns regarding privacy and the potential misuse of information gathered with this system. Certain watchdog groups have started questioning the necessity of such features and how it would encroach on basic civil liberties.

Trade-offs Between Enhanced Security Systems and Privacy
In light of recent global terrorist events around the globe, governments have been investing in their surveillance systems as an effort to amp up national security and protect the lives of people residing in the area. Biometric systems, such as facial recognition, has gained much attention over the past few years because of its fast, non-contact process and application in a wide variety of fields, both security and non-security related.

The use of these systems have been successful in many cases, resulting in the arrests of a significant number of wanted people and criminals. However, there is always the potential for "errors" or false positive cases, leading to the stopping, questioning, and, sometimes, arrests of innocent people.

An issue that many have with these systems lies with the extent that this tool can be used by the government and how personal information was gathered on people with no knowledge that it was happening. Many would cite the American Super Bowl incident in 2001 in Tampa, Florida, as an example where controversy ensued after news broke after the game that police officials equipped the sports arena with "facecams" to scan for wanted criminals.

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
It would be wrong to say that the use of enhanced security measures, such as facial recognition software, is unethical. However, policies should be issued with regards to its applications. In many countries, there are no clean-cut legal guidelines to regulate how face recognition technology can be used in public spaces. Decisions are being made on a case-to-case basis, often without thorough knowledge of the implications of deploying these systems.

Stricter rules exist though in Germany, France, and other countries in the European Union (EU). According to its data protection rules, collection of personal information, such as images, should only be done "under strict conditions, for a legitimate purpose." Not only that, the entities that gathered the information are also obligated to protect it from being misused and respect general civil rights.

Even though it might be tempting to just focus on the potential of this technology with regards to enhancing security, it would be important for people to carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages of trading privacy and freedom for security.

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Comments ( 1 )
  • Allevate
    2016/02/06 09:58
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