The Ethical Concerns that Come with Using a Face Identifier
5 mins read

The Ethical Concerns that Come with Using a Face Identifier

Modern facial recognition technology has advanced rapidly in the last few years, especially with the advent of modern artificial intelligence technology. This has led to widespread adoption and use in multiple domains including law enforcement, marketing, and so on.

However, the increased deployment of face identifier tech also raises multiple questions and concerns relating to the ethics of the use of such a piece of technology to examine public behavior, collect highly personal data, and more.

Let’s talk about some of the major concerns that are currently arising from the increasing use of this technology.

Privacy Concerns

The first major category of ethical issues that arise from the use of face identity search techniques relates to the maintenance or lack thereof of the privacy of the individuals being identified. These include a number of different kinds of issues:

Mass Surveillance

One of the most common implementations of this kind of technology is in CCTV cameras installed in public spaces, to actively identify and monitor individuals moving in public spaces.

This extensive and advanced level of individual surveillance of all public movements of an individual leads to the complete erosion of privacy and anonymity of individuals. It can also lead to mass anxiety in the public due to the looming fear of constant oversight over even the smallest of actions and activities that an individual might, or might not engage in.

Data Security

Usually for surveillance and law enforcement purposes, the large amount of information gained through face identity searches is collected and stored in large-scale digital databases. These databases are huge and filled with sensitive identification information, including biometric markers of individuals.

These huge banks of data pose a major risk for individual data security, as they can become a prime target for hackers and other malicious individuals who will try to steal them to gain access to private accounts and systems, which makes it debatable whether the information should even be collected in the first place.

Lack of Consent

The overwhelming majority of the time that these solutions are implemented, the individuals whose data is being collected and/or analyzed are not even aware that their data is being looked at and stored in such a way. 

This is a major issue as no form of consent is taken from the individuals to use their data in the first place, which makes it a major violation of individuals’ right to autonomy and privacy.

Discrimination and Bias

The second set of ethical issues that stem from the use of face matching and identification relates to the biases and risk of discrimination that often come with the use of these systems. These take form in the following ways:

Racial & Gender Bias

The unfortunate reality is that facial identification systems have been known to have much higher error rates, including incorrect identification, false matches, and false rejection rates for people of certain demographic groups. In particular, people of color and women are known for being more prone to biased results from these systems.

This can lead to biased, unfair, and unjust outcomes, practices, and behaviors for these kinds of people when these tools are used, especially in the domain of law enforcement and public surveillance.

Discrimination in Society

If the training data and thus the expertise of the facial identification system when it comes to the different races and ethnicities of individuals it is identifying is not representative of the population of the area in which it is implemented, the use of the system can highly exacerbate and perpetuate societal discrimination and biases among individuals.

Misuse and Abuse

The third and maybe the most concerning long-term ethical dilemma stemming from face match tools surrounds the potential of the misuse of these technologies, and the possibility of abuse that comes inherent with them.

Authoritarian Control

The mass surveillance capabilities that a face identifier allows mean that there is always the possibility of their use to monitor and suppress political and ideological thoughts and movements that do not align with a country’s ruling government. This can lead to very serious human rights violations among privacy and security concerns for individuals.

Stalking and Harassment

These tools can also be used, or rather misused, by malicious individuals to stalk and harass other individuals. The large amounts of data that these systems track and store would make it very easy for anyone with access to gain knowledge about the private lives of individuals, from where they live, to where they work, restaurants or cafes they frequent. This can create massive privacy and safety concerns for people, especially women.

Closing Thoughts

The relatively large amount of security and privacy concerns that arise from the use of face identification search technologies mandates that effective regulations and policies are implemented for oversight of the use of these tools. At the same time, it is also essential to maintain a high level of transparency regarding their use, as well as obtain proper consent from individuals for the use of their data.