We have all heard about Facial Recognition (FR), with modern technology advancing at an exponential rate, facial recognition technology has crawled its way into a wide range of applications. As with facial recognition, you are being identified and verified with a database based on a digital image or video footage. But do we really know what happens on the other side of the lens? This article will propose arguments for and against with supporting examples on the said technology.
A dystopian future
FR is a breach of our privacy often covered up by security purposes. FR’s future use will be determined by how much we are willing to accept a trade-off between privacy and protection. Currently, it is used without the consent of the identified person, be it by either private companies or government institutions. In terms of duty ethics, this is an actual infringement of privacy laws and additionally goes against social norms of consent. Why should we be identified if we do not want to?
Two main areas for the use of FR emerged in the past few years: personal advertisement and public surveillance. Now you might think that personal adverts are a neat thing, right? You get to see products you are actually interested in based on your facial expressions without having to look at irrelevant adverts all the time. As with everything private companies touch, reality would look much different. Being bombarded by personal adverts everywhere you go (remember that scene from Minority Report?) does not sound too good now, does it? The idea of selling products aggressively and generating profit through it does not meet the definition of Kant’s good will, but rather that of selfish greed.
While exasperating advertisements do not seem too harmful, we can all agree that severe public surveillance through FR is. The main aim of looking for suspects or potential terrorists is not applicable anymore due to the fact totalitarianism is always under the guise of protection. We are moving away from an initial utilitarian approach towards Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 i.e. omnipresent government surveillance.
Countries such as Germany, the USA, the UK and Russia state that they use FR for security purposes, but we can see tendencies of suppression happening right now. Our core freedoms which every democracy is built upon, such as assembly and expression are being undermined with that kind of technology. Government institutions can use FR to strip protestors of any anonymity on the ground, spreading fear for retaliation among protestors and virtually dissolve any demonstrations in the future.
The prime example of this is China with its social credit system. It only serves one purpose: to silence the opposition and ethnic minorities. Based on research, China is not interested in censoring an individual’s critique, but rather collective action. The on-going conflict with the Uighurs, the Muslim ethnic minority in Xinjiang, China could be used for this sort of intervention. Simultaneously, what we see here is completely against the concept of virtue ethics. Through the use of FR and being held accountable anytime, anywhere, totalitarian regimes imply how a good, desirable person should act: by always agreeing to the political agenda.
While the concerns with privacy are huge, one would ask a very important question – Why should facial recognition still exist?
Looking on the bright side…
Walking amongst the 1.4 billion people in India, are hundreds of thousands of missing children, completely disconnected from their families for years. The same technology which some of you might address as ‘ridiculous’ has helped find 3,000 missing children over a period of just four days and are now in the process of being reunited with their families.
Looking at this case study from an ethical perspective, it can be traced back to utilitarian roots. Utilitarianism suggests something is good if it promotes happiness and it is bad if it produces suffering. To deny the wide-scale use of this technology is to, in a way, disagree with the benefits FR brings to the vast majority of people. While you are busy filing petitions to ban the public use of FR, a poor family in India is filing a missing report of their only child clutching to hope in the form of just a photograph. Imagine this: your loved ones are having a wonderful vacation in Dubai where the FR systems are working day and night to take out wanted criminals off the streets. The children at schools can feel safer as the system alerts the guards automatically when a suspicious face with a history of bad deeds enter the premises. Can’t relate to it yet? Imagine having to pay at the counter just by scanning your face and not having to take your wallet out to use your convenient ‘contactless’ card. It is much faster and safer as no one can steal your face (yet).
Should FR cease to exist in its current form, it can cause a disruption in an ever-evolving digital age. Simply pulling a plug on it would be to strip people from their physical freedom and going back to square one on manual labour. It is no longer a gimmick but a modern answer to efficiency in the modern world where data is the new oil. Would you really want to create inconvenience for the millions just because you feel it is not right? Kant believed that good will is the only morally right thing to do, so if the action is to utilise FR technology to better the world, it can be said that it is morally acceptable to utilise this technology.
Facial recognition brings important societal benefits, but also some concerns about security and privacy. The consensus in our group is that we oppose this technology at its current stage.