Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How to Capture Criminals Using Facial Recognition in Everyday Settings

A recent story about how federal authorities are starting to use facial recognition in everyday settings, such as social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and dating sites like match.com and eharmony.com, to capture criminals brings up the age old question as this technology starts catching up to criminal activities.

How do you balance advanced biometric technology with an individual's right to privacy?

There is no easy solution to this question.  Biometrics like fingerprint, iris and facial recognition have become more precise and accurate.  Technology such as facial recognition now permits someone to use their iPhone or Android to snap a picture or video and compare it against a database of images to match subjects.  As this process becomes more mainstream, privacy issues and concerns have been expressed by various groups, so much so that the FTC has conducted workshops and meetings to address concerns.  Unfortunately, these same groups don't have a solution to the issue, and as a result fail to bring anything constructive to the table.

"Facial recognition leads to discovery of your social security number!"  These folks scream.

To actively deal with privacy concerns the conversation needs to focus on how technology may be used to capture criminals and prevent criminal activiites while not impeding on any person's rights.  But ultimately, it is not that simple.

Take, for instance, the statistics that Facebook and Twitter has on usage and accounts.  Millions upon millions of people have signed up for these services and hundreds like them.  Why is the inherent lack of privacy associated with social media acceptable with the same people who are having an issue with law enforcement technology?  If you read anything on the Internet today, you will be bombarded with avatars of people - on Facebook, Twitter, Huffington Post, the list goes on and on.

We don't see an issue with biometric analysis used in everyday settings.  We believe that an individual loses most of his or her rights to privacy (at least with respect to his/her name and likeness) once they create a Facebook, Google+ or Twitter account or any service that requires a photograph as part of the person's Profile.  Apps like Foursquare, Pinterest and Gowalla track your every movement, we've never read any cautionary posts about this complete lack of privacy.  It's more and more difficult to decry privacy concerns when someone can Google you and find you all over the "information superhighway" (bear with me, I like that archaic term).

The vast majority of law enforcement uses of this kind of technology is reactive.  In other words, police don't use facial recognition until a mug shot has been taken or a person has been pulled over.  Once this happens, wouldn't it be safe to say that all bets are off?  We believe that capturing a criminal because a match was made to a criminal database after pulling someone over due to a busted taillight is ok.  People who make an issue of these kinds of technique beg the question about what they have to hide.

Ultimately, we believe that we as a society are better off if criminals are apprehended and incarcerated at the expenses of losing a little bit of privacy. 

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