September 21, 2020

Is Facial Recognition Technology Secure?

Has it ever happened to you that you posted a photo on Facebook and it automatically suggested to tag you and your friends who were in that photo? If so, then that is Facebook’s facial recognition software at work. 

Facial recognition has been around us for quite some time and it has seamlessly integrated with us in our everyday life. Facial recognition technology uses the biometric map of a person’s face and then uses it to verify people and let them access their phones and other applications. It collects unique biometric data associated with the faces and facial expressions of each person.

But do we know the inner workings of facial recognition tech? How do we know for sure that it is safe? If you have questions like these then this article will be your guide on the workings, applications, myths, safety, pros, and cons of facial recognition tech. Let us begin with how facial recognition algorithms work.

How Does Facial Recognition Work?

So to make facial recognition work, one only needs a device with digital photographic capabilities. It will be used to generate and compare pictures with the stored biometric face features. 

Generally, it is an easy 4 step process which occurs in the following order:

  • The first step is registering your face with the device. For this purpose, the device requires the person to take a front-facing picture or video from the device’s camera.
  • The next step is that the learning algorithm extracts features from the image or video taken from the device. Features include but are not limited to the distance between eyes, forehead, and chin, how long the nose bridge etcetera.
  • A facial signature through a mathematical formula is generated and stored in a database. This mathematical formula has very little margin for error, one can say it works flawlessly.
  • The last step is recognition, this happens once the face has been registered with the device. Once a person tries to use facial recognition for verification, the same process takes place but in the end, the mathematical values are compared with the one that was stored previously. 

If it matches then the action is authenticated if not then it does not authenticate the user or the action.

So, now that we know how facial recognition works we start to wonder how safe is it?

Is Facial Recognition Safe?

Is Facial Recognition Safe?

Is Facial Recognition Safe?

There has been an ongoing debate on whether facial recognition systems are safe or not. Facial recognition systems are being deployed nearly everywhere these days like airports and other government buildings. 

Certain organizations and agencies collect data anonymously without people’s consent, social media platforms also collect facial data of their users. This raises privacy, security, and safety concerns for people as this data can be used against them in one form or another. Some common issues with facial recognition include:

  • Identity mistakes can be a major drawback of facial recognition systems as they are not 100% accurate. Hence this could result in falsely identifying someone who was not involved in a certain matter.
  • A person’s face is his/her personal property and government agencies have been gathering data on individuals for quite a while, without their permission. Hence they are violating the basic rights regarding freedom of individuals.
  • If you have given your facial biometrics willingly or not, they are always at risk of being stolen by hackers online. If this does occur then who knows how will your data be used.
  • Facial recognition systems could also lead to online harassment and stalking as people could a photo of you and track you online through the use of facial recognition systems.
  • The last but not the least concern that people have is of prevalence, once you have submitted your facial print, it tends to end up at a lot of places. Hence you will not have any further information on who uses it and how.

But it is not all issues and concerns regarding facial recognition, instead, it is considered one of the best and most secure way for verification. Most smartphone manufacturers these days opting out for facial recognition as the primary way to unlock the phone. Apple was the first to implement only face unlock instead of providing with both touchID and face unlock. The technologies associated with it are becoming more and more reliable and cheap hence we are seeing a rise in popularity of facial recognition systems.

Top Use Cases of Facial Recognition

With the knowledge of how facial recognition works and is it secure or not, let us move on to some of the most popular applications of this technology.

Law Enforcement

Law enforcement is considered one of the best use case scenarios for facial recognition. All around the world, law enforcement agencies use facial recognition tools in some way to prevent crime or to apprehend the culprits involved. Police and forensics use recognition software to match individuals with photos available from the crime scene.

Border Control

Deployment of facial recognition systems on the entry-exit points has greatly reduced the manpower needed to manage these points and has also increased their accuracy. Border control in the US has been using facial recognition to identify fake passports, secure and rapid personnel processing at land and sea borders, and improving the processing time at the international airports. Such technologies are being deployed in Europe and Asia as well, ensuring safe travel and immigration for everyone.

Fraudulent Activity

A lot of times individuals present fraudulent documents as a way of conducting crime. They impersonate some other person to gain access to sensitive places, information, and welfare benefits. There have been cases where authorities have arrested people who were trying to impersonate people whose credit cards they have stolen. Authorities identified those people through CCTV footage by comparing it with mugshots.

Verification of Identity

Verification of identity is by far the biggest and best use of facial recognition. Our phones and computers have facial recognition tech built into them, hence they are used to access files and other information after verification. Governments have also deployed this system at certain collection points where people collect their documents after successful verification.

Verification of Identity

Verification of Identity

Final Thoughts

Like every piece of tech that is out there, facial recognition also has its pros and cons. Facial recognition has a lot of myths associated with it like facial recognition is racially biased or if you are miss identified by law enforcement will not result in a lifetime jail sentence. Yes, there have been cases in the past but the system always strives to become more efficient with every passing day. Whereas jail sentence does not solely depend upon you being matched by a recognition algorithm. There are privacy concerns and some of them are true to an extent.

There are safeguards in place to protect people and their privacy and governments are working effortlessly to make it better. Nonetheless, facial recognition has made life easier and secure for all of us and it is getting better with every passing day.

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