Tribune News Service
Law enforcers around the world are celebrating the rapidly expanding potential of facial recognition software to help them catch criminals faster and solve long-dormant cases. Such capabilities in the right hands could reap enormous public safety dividends. But in the wrong hands, an entirely new dimension in crime, extortion and mayhem could soon be unleashed.
Before it’s too late, people need to think long and hard about the wisdom of venturing down this uncharted road. Few would argue against tools that help police capture dangerous criminals. It’s the law-abiding people who need to worry about what comes next when this software expands to general public use.
One of the most frightening technological advances is Clearview AI, a powerful facial recognition service currently available to US and Canadian law enforcers. The company’s software takes uploaded photos then scrapes the Internet, including Facebook, for exact-match images. Its database now contains 3bn photos and videos. But those aren’t just photos of criminals. They’re photos of children, grandmothers, families having fun at the beach. Anything and everything is fair game.
That’s what makes it so useful to law enforcers. Precise comparison algorithms zip through the entire database at lightning speed to analyse frontal and profile facial photos along with any information connected to the targeted person. Whether it’s your name, birthdate, hometown, children’s names, high school, hobbies, favourite bar, political views – if it’s on the Internet, the algorithm uses it.
Most police officers would probably use such software only under authorised circumstances. But we know from a few local cases that not all officers can be trusted. Some could use it for personal enrichment.
Now imagine such an app on a cellphone for general public use. You’re walking down the street, and a complete stranger greets you by name, identifies your spouse and kids, maybe mentions the name of your employer or how your family’s vacation went. Maybe the stranger mentions your address, or your political leanings. Left unregulated, the threat and exploitation potential would be unlimited.
Clearview insists its software is closely monitored and secure, and is designed to “identify child molesters, murderers, suspected terrorists, and other dangerous people quickly, accurately, and reliably to keep our families and communities safe.”
But when a New York Times reporter looked into the company and contacted officers for a demonstration of the programme, one officer received a call from Clearview and asked him why he uploaded a New York Times reporter’s photo. A block was placed on searches of her. It was a clear demonstration of how the software is vulnerable to political manipulation.
If ever there was a clarion call for authorities to impose tight restrictions on this technology, it’s now – before the notion of privacy becomes a quaint memory of a bygone era. – Tribune News Service
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