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Facial Recognition Technology – Not as Safe as you Might Think

Posted by Nance Wickins on Mar 30, 2020 5:37:16 PM

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and facial recognition technology are not as new as most think. They have been around since the 1960s. Woody Bledsoe, a mathematician, computer scientist, and professor at the University of Texas at Austin was one of the founders of AI and facial recognition technology. At the time, Bledsoe’s primary supporters were the U.S. government and the CIA. 

Fast forward 60 years and you'll find facial recognition technology is widespread, from government and law enforcement to airport security, smart devices, shopping malls, schools… the list goes on and is growing.

Evaluating the Pros and Cons

 Clearview AI, a technology surveillance company that provides facial recognition software to law enforcement agencies, claims that it has helped identify thousands of criminals. They claim that they only pull their data from public social media sites such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Venmo, a practice called scraping. However, many social media companies are pushing back and issuing cease and desist orders, saying photos and information on their apps are not public, and taking their customers' photos violates their terms of service.

In addition to concerns raised by this controversy worries concerning the use of facial recognition by airports have arisen. Many airports have begun using this technology. Philadelphia International Airport recently launched a 45-day pilot program at several gates in its international terminal. While the aim is to eliminate the need to show passports and reduce the potential for terrorism from imposters, the technology receives mixed reviews. While some passengers think it's safer, more convenient, and the way of the future, others express apprehensions over what happens to the photos and the potential risk of identity theft from data breaches.

The threat of data breaches is a serious concern

In a recent Authority article, Brett Scott, Tech Data’s director of security solutions, reiterates these concerns. “Some of my colleagues try to convince people that biometric is much better and safer to use than dull and passé passwords. The problem with that argument is it's a trick on logic;" explaining how biometric data can easily be fooled. As Scott puts it, "One loss equals forever breached."

Activists are demanding federal and international regulations, but governments are struggling to put policies into place, technology’s developers and users disagree on the way forward.

To ban or not to ban – that is the question

According to a Reuter's report, after the EU announced it was considering a temporary ban on the use of facial technology in public places (a ban which they later decided not to put into place), Google and Alphabet CEO, Sundar Pichai suggests that the "technology could be used for nefarious purposes." A ban might give governments and regulators the "time to tackle it sooner rather than later and give a framework for it." According to this same report, Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer, Brad Smith, continues to push back against such a ban, saying "There is only one way at the end of the day to make technology better and that is to use it."

The federal government is struggling to create policy around online privacy rights, but, so far, they have not been able to pass even one law that would protect a person's data from being scraped and used by companies like Clearwater AI. The onuses to defend its citizens' privacy has primarily fallen to state and local governments, many of which have created legislation protecting its residents' rights to their personal data.  

California, New Hampshire, and Oregon prohibit law enforcement from using facial recognition in their body cameras. Illinois has a law that allows individuals to sue over the collection of biometric data. San Francisco and Oakland, California as well as Somerville, Massachusetts have banned the use of facial recognition by all of their cities' agencies. Detroit allows the use of facial recognition technology only in connection with violent crime. So, as you can see, these laws vary significantly from state to state and city to city, but at least they are a start at regulating privacy rights and biometric data use.

What is in the future for facial recognition and biometric data?

Biometric data is here to stay. How we use it and what limits and safeguards we put into place to protect our privacy and theft of our information are both questionable and critical to how we can safely move forward into the future. While it is difficult to agree on policies that will satisfy biometric data providers, consumers, and private citizens, at least local and state legislators are starting to implement some strategies that will hopefully be refined and rolled out to the broader population. For our identities' sake, let's hope that happens sooner rather than later.

In the meantime, the Tech Data Security Solutions team is using its state-of-the-art Cyber Range and cybersecurity experts to help lead the way in educating, advocating, and preventing cybersecurity hacks. Contact them at https://www.techdata.com/security.

About the Author

Nance Wickins is a project coordinator at Tech Data where she’s worked for the past 9 1/2 years. Nance is the editor of Tech Data’s Power of Partnership vendor newsletter and manages Docurated company's  enterprise sales enablement platform.

Tags: Security, Data Breach, artificial intelligence, biometrics, Facial Recognition