Practice OP-ED – VoxPopuli

Facial Recognition: Modern Pandoras Box?

Facial recognition will usher in a new age of Orwellian totalitarianism if it is not stopped or at the very least heavily regulated. Although facial recognition has a lot of exciting and benign applications, its potential to be used as a mass surveillance tool cannot be ignored. Imagine a world where our every move is monitored and scrutinized in the name of security.  A world in which certain people are singled out based on how they look or act. This is already happening in authoritarian countries around the world such as China.

For example the mostly Muslim minority residents of Kashgar, China are watched 24/7 by an interconnected series of cameras that track people using facial recognition. Kashgar is not the only city in China that has implemented this system. Throughout the country a network of 176 million cameras watch over the nation’s citizens. Furthermore, in America proposals to integrate facial recognition with police body cameras have been made. This system would allow police to scan the area around them for wanted or suspicious individuals. This may help police catch actual criminals but for the rest of us it is a privacy nightmare. The use of facial recognition to recognize wanted individuals also raises the concern for false positives. I know I would not be happy if I was mistaken for a wanted criminal. In conclusion these two examples show facial recognitions capabilities as a tool for mass surveillance.

Another frightening application of facial recognition is its use to predict crimes before they happen. Using machine learning, future systems may be able to predict what a criminal looks and acts like before they commit a crime. A company in China has already demonstrated a system that works like this, flagging people who are acting suspicious. This technology is particularly freighting because of its potential to be used as a tool to discriminate against racial, sexual, or ethnic minorities. For example a group of researchers at Stanford tried to develop a “Gaydar” that would determine a person’s sexuality based on an image of their face. To conclude facial recognition could be used to exclude groups of people based on their characteristics.

To conclude it is only a matter of time before facial recognition becomes the tool of choice for oppressive governments worldwide. We must intervene now before we open pandora’s box and enter a new age of worldwide surveillance and monitoring. More overall must be done in order to ensure this technology is used in ethical and moral ways. To conclude Orwell would be rolling in his grave if he saw the way we were handling facial recognition technology.

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