SMILE! YOU ARE ON CAMERA

Group 23

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.

Final verdict

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.

46 thoughts on “SMILE! YOU ARE ON CAMERA

  1. Technology sometimes seems to be getting out of hand. In the case of FR, I believe it should be continued to be in use but in the right hands. Probably the judiciary system of the country can use it and not the political groups or advertisement industry. Anything that has the potential to help a large scale population must not be turned away because of the problems but should be implemented by overcoming the problems. Bringing out the views as mentioned in this article really helps in making the technology even better and well understood.
    This is a very well presented article regarding an important topic of the technological era. Great work!

    1. I can see your point, but how do you make sure only the judiciary system uses FR? For totalitarian regimes, the separation of powers does not exist. They will always influence the legislature, the executive and the judiciary.
      FR in the wrong hands can cause more disadvantages than it has advantages. We can already see how some regimes control the population, FR will only further extend their power.

      Clear regulations need to be implemented, so governments and companies only have the right to use FR within a certain limit.

      1. @paid_to_comment However we do see the governments themselves misuse the power sometimes. History is a witness and some countri=ies still have terribly run govt. I would not trust even the govt with the FR tech. So much power over tracking people could easily lead to unethical actions.

  2. I agree with your point on overcoming the problem rather than simply discontinuing the technology. One must not give up such a crucial piece of tech just due to the potential of mishandling it when it could help millions or even billions.

    1. I disagree with both of you, to me, if it is going to destroy even a single person’s life, then you should really not care about the advantages. Find another way to deal with the problem, but risking one’s life just to help the other millions is not the way to go. unless you that one man’s/woman’s permission that he is ready to sacrifice his peace.

      1. As much as I hate to admit this, but I think that’s is a valid point. However, I do think that people should have that moral character to be selfless and be ready to be a part of the project that would benefit mankind. I personally would not mind being a target, it does depend on the magnitude of the impact I face though, but I am up for it if it means a so much for human race development.

      2. Hi Danny_man. When you say “risking one’s life” by using facial recognition technology, I cannot think of a life or death situation which affects the public. Invasion of privacy for the public, I agree is a negative aspect of FR technology, but not life or death. The advantages FR brings to the table far outweighs the negatives, as FR technology can actually save potentially thousands of lives by finding criminals/terrorists and preventing terrorist plots.

  3. Facial recognition is preferred over fingerprint scanning because of its non-contact process. People don’t have to worry about the potential drawbacks related to fingerprint identification technology, such as germs or smudges. Its a very useful technology, it can be used for various other purposes.. i feel its more of a benefit to the society.

    1. It is very interesting that you brought out the idea of being germophobic and also the accumulation of contaminants leading to delay in scanning. Yes, in that context, FR would definitely be useful -cleaner and quick with no delays such as constant cleaning of the scanner. I am surprised nobody thought of it at that level. Good argument. Cheers.

  4. This technology may have its benefits but implementation will cost a lot more since it requires camera with high quality and software to have better accuracy. May be in future the advancement may decrease the prices of this.

    1. I don’t think we are currently too worried about the cost of implementation compared to the advantages it has got. But fair point, if you live in a vulnerable area, and you do not have enough resources to get an FR system to keep the trouble away or at least be warned about an unwelcome person.

    2. @vikhyathshe That is a very good point. Most new technology will have high initial costs as expected. That’s why it will initially be implemented on a small scale, and once the technology advances and becomes cheaper, it will slowly be implemented on a larger scale.

  5. Data storage will also be a problem when its about facial recognition. People can even use it to hack systems. I dont think facial recognition should be promoted. Because security is very important

    1. I believe everyone has their own opinions and I respect that. But would you not want it all or is that you are fine with it as long as the security is not a threat?

    2. @john81 Going by your argument, then phones, computers, social media and even the internet should cease to exist as data storage and cyber security threats poses a threat to them. Do you agree?

      There will always be measures that can be taken for data storage and cyber security issues, so I don’t think this will be a massive argument to not go forward with facial recognition technology.

  6. In my opinion, FR is a part of Industry 4.0. Reading about its pros and cons, we can say that FR should be implemented in order to ease the processes and help millions of people. However, care must be taken in order to protect one’s identity and privacy. Afterall, giving back to the society is what matters.

    1. Hello Rishabh,

      I can see where you are going.

      FR can be seen as the next step of progression. ‘Why should we stop improvement in industry?’ you might ask.
      It is very hard to argue from an utilitarian point of view. How do we measure the benefits FR brings and how do we weigh them up against the downsides?

      Based on our presented arguments however, we think FR has more heavily weighted aspects to it than positive ones.

      1. I agree with Mr. Rishab, but Mr. paid_to_comment does have a valid point. How does one actually weight what is better and what is bad? Different people have different priorities. So you cannot achieve a single understanding. A benefit to one society could be trouble for another society.

  7. May be when it is more developed this technology can be used more widely. Security is very important. But compared to finger print or voice recognition, facial recognition is said to be more difficult to hack. So I think this is better for the society

    1. Hi Susan21,

      Thank you for your comment.

      We realize that security is a big issue and that facial recognition is currently more difficult to hack due to the individual’s biometric.
      However, arguing from the point of view of a responsible engineer, it has to be noted that this technology is predetermined for surveillance. Together with other metadata you can be traced which goes against our idea of privacy.

      We will have to see what the future holds for us…

      1. Hi Danny_man,

        No, you cannot easily create 3D images of a person. I am aware of the technologies of additive manufacturing and being able to 3D print a “face mask”. I assume this is what you are referring to? I agree this could be used for unethical reasons by impersonating some one else by wearing another persons “face mask”. However this 3D printing capability is still in its early stages and not easily accessible for anyone to go around impersonating someone else, currently.

        I do however agree that one day in the future, it will “easily” be able to create 3D images of a persons and impersonate them. This is definitely something to consider when talking about facial recognition technology though. Perhaps this poses a strong argument against FR technology in the future and should be put to a stop now so it doesn’t get to this stage in the future.

        1. @sab CGI could generate images very similar to human-like as they do in movies. What would you say about that? Don’t you think CGI could be a tool for identity theft?

          1. @Danny_man Yes, I suppose CGI could generate human-like images. However, I find it difficult to think of a context where CGI is used to trick facial recognition tech. Potential uses of FR tech can include airport security and shops to make payments. How would a fraud use CGI in these instances to fool the Facial recognition technology?

  8. Impressive article and views. Although I don’t agree with opposing this technology entirely. The societal benefits of FR seems to outweigh the negatives in my opinion. We could work towards finding a balance and establishing limits to protect privacy.

    1. I do not actually agree with the point that it outweighs the negatives. Because, you are talking about the current situation may be, but as the world becomes more n more greedy, just a handful amount of people with wrong intentions can simply destroy the privacy of millions in near future.

      We definitely could work on finding a balance though, but I don’t balance is good enough as it still means that the threat remains.

      1. @Khazar A lot of things in the world have the potential to destroy the privacy of millions; social media and the internet come to mind. However, I don’t see these two ceasing to exist any time soon, just because of their privacy issues.

        I agree with Sanika 22 on the benefits of FR outweighing the negatives. Regulations can always be established to protect privacy.

  9. A beautiful article I would say! Even though FR has societal benefits In some developed/developing countries I fear it might not have the same effect on ethnically diverse countries like India and China. I would prefer keeping it in an experimental phase for now and not completely transitioned as we lack the technology as well as ethical support.

    1. Yes, an experimental phase is a reasonable approach to such an impactful technology. We have to conduct several studies and analyse the downsides of this technology extensively. Maybe after some time and regulations, we can finally use this technology in an utilitarian manner. Only then it could bring more benefits and be therefore considered ethically right.
      Furthermore, based on this, you could argue that since FR will respect ones privacy and democratic rights once the regulations are implemented, we can even speak of Kant’s good will since FR will be agreeing with the law and our social norms.

      We should not rush into a decision (using it right now in its current stage) we might regret later…

  10. I feel that this piece of technology is foolproof, as of now, and too important to be opposed at this stage when it has so much potential. Efforts could be taken in appropriate measure to prevent misuse.

    1. Yes, we do need to be very careful about the technology. In reality, any technology could be misused to a great extent. FR is just another example. So, just like any other tech we have today, FR too can be made foolproof. We, as engineers, still have not reached the full potential of the tech yet. We must keep moving forward.

  11. This topic is an unique one and the arguements for the pros and cons were equally balanced. This technology though yet developing will surely contribute to breakthroughs in this particular field

    1. Thank you for the appreciations. It really is surprising how much downside a technology with a ‘promising future’ could have in reality, and we did make our best efforts to put forth both the sides of the FR story. Opinions still vary from person to person though depending on their experiences.

    2. Every breakthrough usually has a price to pay. There will be a lot of secret unethical experiments on the crowds. Data will be leaked. People will have no clue how their privacy got breached while the scientists and engineers will be just watching in the background trying to figure out what went wrong.

      Trust me, you really don’t want to be seen by somebody you do not approve. Ist that the reason why so many people choose to keep their Instagram accounts private? Think about it.

      1. @Danny_man Yes, I agree that FR tech will have negatives to it, as with most things in life. However, the advantages it brings is big. Would you agree that using FR to find terrorists / stop bomb plots and save hundreds of lives is an advantage that outweigh the invasion of privacy?

        Going by your argument, social media and the internet should cease to exist due to their privacy issues. However, there are rules and regulations put in place for that. I don’t see any of those 2 ceasing to exist in the near future. Therefore, I think FR technology should go forward, even if it poses some privacy issues. Rules and regulations can be put in place for that.

    3. @Manty Thank you for your comment! I agree that FR technology is still at its early stages and we cannot confidently say whether this technology is right or wrong ethically but only speculate at this stage. I am very excited about future breakthroughs in this particular technology and to see how it will change society in the future.

  12. Though the debate in FR is definitely a swing between privacy and protection…… You can never get protection without trading anything…. Though it has its own downfall in privacy issues,my personal thought is that FR has helped will help in catching hardened criminals who are a immense threat to our society…. Plus the authorities involved and the govt. are working on solving or at least minimize it invading our privacy!!!… I think it is a necessary method for the govt!!!

  13. Facial-recognition technology advances by the day, but problems with accuracy and misidentifications persist, especially when the systems must contend with poor-quality images, high chances of identity theft is possible. Although it is highly beneficial to the advancing era, its not 100% foolproof and reliable.

    1. Saiganesh, I agree with your comment and I can imagine so many ways in which this technology could mess peoples reputation due to false accusation. The world is still in the misconception that every new innovation can be managed well in order to extract its full potential. This is so wrong. Not everything we create has to be an ethical creation.

  14. Though AI and machine learning are constantly developing the facial recognition systems, the drawbacks of FR should be limited in order to avoid issues regarding personal privacy, data storage etc. According to me, privacy issues pose a big threat for use of this technology as it eliminates the freedom of anonymity. It also rises questions such as who are accessible to the stored data, where is the collected data accumulated etc. However, new technologies don’t just get implemented with the limited risks but, the worst case scenarios behind all the new technologies including FR should be thought well through and progress towards bringing the risks/cons to minimal.

  15. Hello guys, well-written article I must say. And yes, I agree with the points you have mentioned, but in its own independent sense.

    I cannot imagine a world where the FR would be having a balance. You might argue that it has good and bad sides and one must manage to control or balance it, but c’mon guys, you cannot risk anyone’s life just because it will help everybody else’s. It sounds more like how they say in movies where one must die against his will just to save everyone else. That is just plain cruel.

    I don’t think this technology would ever have a right place in our society.

    1. But, don’t you think we, as humans, have the power to actually take this technology to a level where risks are almost nil? Example, an aeroplane, during earlier days there were lots of accidents back in the 20th century, but now, aeroplanes are one of the safest mode of transport as per statistics.

      I don’t completely agree with your idea of simply putting a full stop to the technology

  16. I do not agree that Facial recognition is something we have to be scared of. EU data privacy laws protect you from private companies misusing the data, you can get the information removed from the database on demand.

    Having said that, it is not solely the government’s responsibility to protect your privacy. Accepting permissions and products from unknown companies should be avoided to prevent data breach.

  17. Nice article guys! This is especially a delicate topic for people’s privacy concerns.

    From my perspective – I don’t like how smartphones can gain even more personal data in the form of Facial Recognition!

  18. A good article, nicely written.
    You’ve got lots of comments too, and brought in good ethical argumentation. I’ve not got any more comments to add at this stage.

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