Institutionalizing Facial Recognition

Over the past ten years, facial recognition technology has left the realm of science fiction and entered the world of science fact. Like it or not, the identification practice, which many critics deem Orwellian and rights-depriving, is gaining ground everywhere you look.

Supporters of the emerging technology, which matches data points on a real-time human face to saved images of human faces in order to produce a positive ID, include the law enforcement community — as you would expect. Airports are also beefing up their security systems with the controversial tool.

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The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) pioneered the brand new field of biometrics in the 1990s. Since then, the fledgling industry has grown from about $150 million of annual revenue in 2015 to forecasts of $882 million by 2024. Another source anticipates revenues in excess of $8 BILLION (with a ‘B’) by 2022.

Delta Airlines just rolled out their new airport security procedures that rely on facial recognition. The company is attempting to convince the public to use the privacy-invading identification system voluntarily – in order to shave mere seconds off their time spent between the curb and take-off.

So far, Delta’s voluntary facial recognition checkpoint kiosks have been embraced by air travelers, almost all of whom (98%!) are gladly trading their rights to privacy and no warrantless searches for an on-time departure.

Retailers are also moving toward facial recognition to reduce shoplifting losses and other criminal violence on their premises – but they are not being forthright about their actions. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) revealed that mega-hardware store Lowe’s “has begun using the technology without informing visitors to its stores.”

In 2015, Walmart tried out facial recognition technology to identify and apprehend shoplifters. The face of every person who entered the store was scanned electronically to match with “identified suspected shoplifters” and send an instant mobile device alert to store security personnel.

A company in Southern California called FaceFirst – catchy, right? – is marketing their Big Brother facial recognition solutions to these industries:

  • Retail
  • Casinos
  • Law Enforcement
  • Financial Services
  • Missing Children
  • Military
  • Corrections (Prisons)
  • Stadiums
  • Airports

Facefirst claims “proven results” and a clientele that includes several Fortune 500 retailers. The company’s mission, published on their website, is to create “a safer and more personalized planet with facial recognition technology.” Naturally, the ID tech vendors are pushing the positive aspects of their products:

“We empower organizations to detect and deter real time threats, transform team performance and strengthen customer relationships.”

According to Joe Rosenkrantz, CEO of Facefirst, “The system is smart enough to notify a loss prevention associate on their iPhone within seven seconds.”

In the sports arena, facial recognition security measures are gaining ground rapidly.

The United States Tennis Association (USTA) hosts the U.S. Open. “Courtsiders” are a big problem at tennis tournaments. These unscrupulous individuals sneak around to avoid detection (sometimes in disguise) in order to feed their clients winning bets before they have been announced officially.

In an April 2018 report about honesty in tennis and gambling corruption, the USTA indicated that “is “[e]xploring opportunities to utilize facial recognition software to identify known courtsiders at the U.S. Open.”

Madison Square Gardens has been using hidden cameras to scan everyone who enters the building. The system is being used to identify trouble-makers for the greater good:

“MSG continues to test and explore the use of new technologies to ensure we’re employing the most effective security procedures to provide a safe and wonderful experience for our guests.”

As far back as 2001, the faces of each one of the 100,000 football lovers who attended Super Bowl XXXV were imaged by surveillance cameras which compared them to those of “known criminals, from pickpockets to international terrorists.” Opponents of the new security measures renamed the event “Snooper Bowl.”

Predictably, law enforcement officials are promoting the “new normal” for public security ID systems while calming everyone’s fears that Big Brother is getting stronger at the expense of the average person. Their position is that facial recognition is “no more intrusive than routine video surveillance that most people encounter each day as they’re filmed in stores, banks, office buildings or apartment buildings.”

But Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU in Florida, is concerned about the societal consequences of categorizing all of us as potential criminals. He said, “I think it presents a whole different picture of America.”

Indeed, facial recognition systems seem poised on the slippery slope of civil rights as a threat to the U.S. legal system’s assumption of innocence before guilt. The enforcers believe it is perfectly okay to suspect everyone of being a criminal, and then try to prove it with advanced computer tools.

Is this really the course of wisdom or are We the People abandoning our civil rights for the promise of increased public safety? At the rate things are going, the answer is fast becoming moot as facial recognition surrounds all of us, everywhere, never sleeping.

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