Facing the Future

Facing the Future.

What defines us as unique? Is it our fingerprints, our personalities or our conscience that set us apart from everyone else? Some might say it’s our faces that express our exclusivities. But how many of us have faces similar to someone else? How many times have you walked down the street and had someone mistake you for someone they know? Also, our faces change over time. How do we identify someone we may be looking for when time and similarity come into play? Glad you asked.

With new and developing bio-metric and facial recognition software, we are coming ever closer to having the tools to instantly find and recognize anyone, anywhere in the world. But at what cost to our personal privacy and ownership of our own identity do these new technologies bring?

Canadian airports are using facial recognition at border crossings. Heathrow Airport in London is planning on using it to replace boarding passes. In China, bathrooms are using it to prevent the theft of toilet paper.

In the U.S., the FBI is using it to solve crimes – with a database that accounts for around half of adult Americans.

That’s over 117 million people, but not all of them are criminals … and some are worried about the implications of that, the Guardian reported.

“Facial recognition technology is a powerful tool law enforcement can use to protect people, their property, our borders, and our nation,” Jason Chaffetz, chair of the oversight committee on the subject, said at a hearing on earlier this month.

“But it can also be used by bad actors to harass or stalk individuals. It can be used in a way that chills free speech and free association by targeting people attending certain political meetings, protests, churches, or other types of places in the public.”

The hearing outlined how many Americans aren’t aware that their pictures may be in the database, and how inaccurate or false positives could lead to racial bias.

In Canada’s Privacy Act, “federal government institutions can use personal information for the purpose for which the information was collected or for a use consistent with that purpose,” Office of the Privacy Commissioner wrote in a report.

“Apart from some limited and specific exceptions, the consent of the individual must be obtained for any other use of the information.”
But that’s not what’s happening in the U.S. In 2016, the government accountability office analyzed the FBI’s Next Generation Identification Program and found it was lacking in oversight, which led to the recent hearing.

Canadian Employers need to adhere to the privacy protocols surrounding biometric attendance systems for their employees, says one employment lawyer. Biometric attendance systems allow employers to keep track of the number of hours their employees work by measuring their biological characteristics such as fingerprints, handprints or facial features, which are then used to identify them.

Since the systems record employees’ personal information, their use is subject to privacy legislation, says Barbara Stratton, a partner at Bennett Jones LLP in Edmonton.

As a result, employers need to let employees know they are going to collect this information, how it’s going to be used, and how they’re going to safeguard their privacy, she says.

The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta has issued two investigative reports regarding biometric systems in the workplace. It found that the collection of employees’ personal information was reasonable but that both employers had breached their obligation under privacy legislation to notify employees about the information being collection and how it would be used.

Even social media companies have turned to facial recognition technology in order to “improve” their products.

Being on Facebook means being seen, and recently some users have spotted a News Feed alert describing several new face recognition features coming to the social network.

Facebook first announced the features back in December, and have slowly rolled them out since then. Users who have them enabled can be notified of photos they appear in, even if they haven’t been tagged, so long as the photos’ privacy settings allow it.

When a Facebook user with either “tag suggestions” or “face recognition” turned on is tagged in a photo, the social network’s machine learning systems analyze the pixels of the face in the image, creating what’s called a “template.” Facebook describes the template as a “string of numbers,” but each user is assigned a template that’s unique to them.

When new photos are uploaded, Facebook compares faces present in the image to templates of relevant users and suggests a tag if there’s a match. Because it’s both unique and able to identify users, it’s helpful to think of the template as a sort of thumbprint.

Facebook was clear that these templates are voluntary: You only have a template if you have tag suggestions or face recognition enabled. If you decide to turn off tag suggestions or the new face recognition features, Facebook says the templates are deleted. However, you can re-enable the features.

Biometric data is extremely precious, and more people are moving to protect it. Facebook is currently being sued for allegedly violating Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act. The plaintiffs claim that Facebook’s widespread collection of face data violates BIPA. Facebook fired back, saying that while they do scan for face templates, this collection doesn’t actually harm anyone. Facebook tried to have the case dismissed on those grounds, but it’s still moving forward. Facebook could pay up to $5,000 for each violation.

So here we are. With todays facial recognition technology, we have the ability to prevent crime, find a lost loved one, cyberly interact with those around us on a much more intimae level…. but we run into the same old question. Do the gains out-weigh the risks to our privacy. After all, maybe what defines us most as unique individuals has more to do with what others don’t know about us and what we are willing to share with others about who we are.

At Kusic and Kusic Private Investigators, we have highly trained specialists in Cyber Investigation in order to provide our clients with the most accurate and up to date information available.

Kusic and Kusic Inc. has been in the Private Investigative industry for the last 24 years and provides top quality services including cyber investigation confidentially to both private individuals and corporations.

Photos courtesy for Flickr

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