It’s scary, it’s creepy; it’s disturbing — and it’s everywhere. Facial recognition, a technology with privacy-eroding implications, is spreading faster than the coronavirus. It is now being used by police forces and private security firms.
Like a lot of technological innovation, it started in the US. More than 600 law enforcement agencies across America started using the technology of one company, Clearview AI, in the past year. Airports and other public venues, like Madison Square Garden in New York, have adopted it as well.
In 2016 Amazon unveiled Rekognition, its facial recognition software, and in April last year Microsoft agreed to sell its facial recognition technology to a US prison. It has already become a tool of mass surveillance, as in the case of ethnic profiling of Uighurs in China’s Xinjiang province.
The European Commission considered imposing a temporary ban on the use of the technology in order to give EU parliamentarians time to develop measures to mitigate its risks, but has now decided to leave it instead to member states. There are clear privacy implications and indications that it violates data protection laws. Several US cities, including San Francisco — the home of hi-tech — have enacted such bans.
Where does it end and why should we be worried about it here? Because 10 European police forces are already using the technology, including London’s Metropolitan Police.