As San Francisco moves to regulate the use of facial recognition systems, we reflect on some of the many'faces' of the fast-growing technology Last week, San Francisco became the first city in the United States to ban the use of facial recognition technology, at least by law enforcement, local agencies, and the city's transport authority. My immediate reaction to the headlines was that this was great for individuals' privacy, a truly bold decision by the San Francisco board of supervisors. The ordinance actually covers more than just facial recognition, as it states the following: "'Surveillance Technology' means any software, electronic device, system utilizing an electronic device, or similar device used, designed, or primarily intended to collect, retain, process, or share audio, electronic, visual, location, thermal, biometric, olfactory or similar information specifically associated with, or capable of being associated with, any individual or group.". The ban excludes San Francisco's airport and sea port as these are operated by federal agencies. Nor does it mean that no individual, company or other organizations installing surveillance systems that include facial recognition, and the agencies banned from using the technology, can cooperate with the people allowed to use it.
Thanks to advances in artificial intelligence (AI), society is now facing a unique challenge: how do we regulate the usage of human faces and voices? Facial recognition is the ability of computer systems to identify and us by our faces. Voice recognition is the ability of computer systems to do the same for our words. Both are powered by AI, and both create benefits for consumers and citizens. These technologies also raise difficult questions about privacy and personal rights.
This article was originally published on The Conversation. The Trump administration's efforts to impose new immigration rules drew attention -- and legal fire -- for its restrictions on the ability of people born in certain majority Muslim countries to enter the U.S. In the frenzy of concern, an obscure piece of the executive orders did not get scrutinized, or even noticed, very much: its expansion of facial recognition systems in major U.S. airports to monitor people leaving the U.S., in hopes of catching people who have overstayed their visas or are wanted in criminal investigations. It's a much more powerful version of the method your phone or computer might use to identify friends in your photos. Using computers to recognize people's faces and validate their identities can streamline access control for secure corporate and government buildings or devices. Some systems can identify known or suspected criminals.
The story of how the FBI finally tracked down notorious fugitive Lynn Cozart, using its brand-new, 1 billion facial recognition system, seems tailor-made to disarm even the staunchest of skeptics. Cozart, a former security guard in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, was convicted of deviant sexual intercourse in 1996. According to court filings, he had molested his three juvenile children, two girls and one boy, from 1984 through 1994. It wasn't until May 11, 1995, that the children's mother came forward and told the Pennsylvania State Police what Cozart had been doing. He was convicted, but he failed to show up for his sentencing hearing in April 1996. Federal agents raided his home, interviewed family members and released photos of the man to the general public. In August 2006, the Cozart case was featured in "America's Most Wanted," the national television program, under a segment titled "Ten Years of Hell for Three Children."
The Calgary Police Service became the first force in Canada to start using facial recognition software to match suspects against a mug shot database this week, but it likely won't be the last. The use of facial recognition technology is growing not just in law enforcement and security fields but also in commerce. "One of the reasons face [recognition] is so popular is that face images exist of almost everybody," said Kevin Bowyer, an expert on biometrics and computer vision and chair of the department of computer science and engineering at the University of Notre Dame. Some cellphone apps use face recognition instead of passwords to give users access to devices. "You've got your driver's licence photos, you've got your identity badges wherever you work, so you've got this legacy of images that are easily accessible for everyone."