We already knew that the city of Moscow is saturated with CCTV cameras, but we've only just learned the extent that the city is able to conduct surveillance on its citizens. NTechLab is a bold Russian company that is at the forefront of the most talked about technology around, facial recognition. Their app, FindFace, which can track everyone on VKontakte, the Russian equivalent of Twitter, based on their profile, caused an outcry in and outside Russia after it was used to to identify and harass sex workers and porn actresses through their personal profiles. Later, the company launched an emotion-reading recognition system, re-igniting concerns over the citizens' privacy and personal data. Despite rumours, nobody really knew who's using this state-of-the-art technology as NTechLab doesn't disclose the identity of their clients.
How would you feel being watched, tracked and identified by facial recognition cameras everywhere you go? Facial recognition cameras are now creeping onto the streets of Britain and the U.S., yet most people aren't even aware. As we walk around, our faces could be scanned and subjected to a digital police line up we don't even know about. There are over 6 million surveillance cameras in the U.K. – more per citizen than any other country in the world, except China. In the U.K., biometric photos are taken and stored of people whose faces match with criminals – even if the match is incorrect. As director of the U.K. civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, I have been investigating the U.K. police's "trials" of live facial recognition surveillance for several years.
Police have made their first arrest based on facial recognition technology, a system that is controversial but could identify terrorism suspects in real time. South Wales police said that they arrested a local man with an outstanding warrant last week after cameras identified him from his features as he passed a surveillance van. The arrest came as officers were preparing to use cameras fitted on vehicles to film the faces of football fans attending the Champions League final at the Millennium stadium in Cardiff on Saturday. The force has received Home Office funding to pilot the technology from the NEC security business. Success could lead to a national rollout.
You know how most dystopian future thrillers feature facial recognition cameras that authoritarian governments use to track and control their citizens' every move? Amazon is working hard to make exactly that sort of facial recognition a reality. To make matters even worse, it has recently been revealed in the UK that some modern facial recognition systems have shockingly bad accuracy, returning mistaken identities as much as 98% of the time. I haven't been able to find stats on the accuracy of Amazon's Rekognition system, but the enthusiasm of governments to embrace questionably accurate technology for profiling their citizens is nonetheless troubling. Amazon Rekognition is a deep-learning AI that can analyze videos and images for a variety of different applications.
In the past few years, there's been a dramatic rise in the adoption of face recognition, detection, and analysis technology. You're probably most familiar with recognition systems, like Facebook's photo-tagging recommender and Apple's FaceID, which can identify specific individuals. Detection systems, on the other hand, determine whether a face is present at all; and analysis systems try to identify aspects like gender and race. All of these systems are now being used for a variety of purposes, from hiring and retail to security and surveillance. Many people believe that such systems are both highly accurate and impartial.