Track My Face

Ensuring safety or biased pervasive surveillance?

Since the worldwide Covid outbreak, once-vibrant cities abruptly came to a halt, according to a Forbes article by Rob Watss. People started working from home, stores and restaurants were forced to close, and there was a sharp decline in in-person shopping. But now that some countries are lifting their Covid restrictions, people are returning to city living — and they’re doing so with higher expectations for living conditions and safety standards.

This lays the groundwork for the continued development of smart cities. Smart cities are created when a municipality deploys digital solutions to deliver real-time information to government and management services so that they can operate more efficiently. According to Watss, facial recognition technology can help accelerate this process. Cameras can capture vast amounts of data, which can be quickly analyzed to detect potential risks to citizens’ daily lives. Companies can use facial recognition to notify employees of protocol violations and deter crimes like pickpocketing and assault. Leaders may also choose to use facial recognition for transactions, which means sensitive information like credit card data cannot be stolen. Watss further elaborates how facial recognition can help track those who have gone missing or have been kidnapped by quickly detecting and reporting on locations in real time, and patients with Alzheimer can easily be identified and brought back safely to their homes.

Sounds great, right? Facial recognition software seems like a great way to safely navigate through smart cities. However, Jake Laperruque in a POGO article argues we should be careful and foremost critical on how we use facial recognition. According to Laperruque, face recognition surveillance poses two distinct but equally important dangers: It can be immensely harmful when it does not function properly, and it can also be immensely harmful when it does. Face recognition misidentifications can lead to improper targeting, needless police action, and wrongful arrests. Innocent individuals could face jail time or be pressured to take a plea deal, all without knowing charges were based upon a poor face recognition match. But making face recognition more accurate will not alleviate the danger it poses to civil rights and civil liberties. Absent strong limits, face recognition opens the doors to pervasive surveillance and abuse, and it allows the government to warp discretion into a tool for malicious and selective targeting.

IMPAKT’s upcoming exhibition FACE VALUE – Surveillance and Identity in the Age of Digital Face Recognition investigates this exact matter:
How does the continuous screening, capturing and digitisation of our faces, voices and emotions impact how we value them? What are the socio-political consequences of using algorithms that reduce your face to a digital barcode, and that make assumptions about your identity based on how you look?
Read more about Face Value here.

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