This month a Chicago man was sentenced to 22 years in prison for a pair of robberies at a transit stop. He’s in prison because of his face. Chicago police used facial recognition technology to identify him. Pierre D. Martin is the first to be busted in the city by the technology.
Police used a tool called NeoFace to analyze surveillance footage of the robberies. Martin, who already had a long criminal record even before the attacks, was in the police department’s database. The software identified him and witnesses verified the match.
Use of the technology around the world is growing rapidly, as are the capabilities of the systems. In Japan, police agencies in Tokyo and four other prefectures are experimenting with a mobile identification system that can instantly recognize any person in a crowd.
The global market for biometric technology, which includes facial, fingerprint, iris and voice recognition among others, is expected to reach $20 billion by 2020. That’s nearly triple the size of the market two years ago.
Privacy remains major concern
Virtually everywhere the systems are used, privacy concerns are raised. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) sued the U.S. federal government for details on its use of facial recognition technology. It learned the FBI estimates it could have facial images of 46 million criminals and 4.3 million civilians by next year. And specifications for a system under construction hint that 20 million civilian faces could be added to the database in a year.
"All of a sudden, your image that you uploaded for a civil purpose to get a job is searched every time there's a criminal query," Jennifer Lynch, staff attorney for the EFF, told Newsweek. "You could find yourself having to defend your innocence."
And in Japan, so many privacy concerns were raised about the mobile identification experiment that the organization running it had to put up explanatory signs in transit stations.
Some citizens willingly participating in programs
Some governments, though, have discovered citizens will willingly participate in facial recognition and biometric identification programs if they directly receive benefits from that technology.
Germany’s Border Police are opening automated border checkpoints, including at international airports. Participation in the program is completely voluntary, but those who participate can quickly pass through busy passport control areas. Participants with ePassports simply have to show their face at a kiosk.
Australia is expanding the number of nationals from other countries that can use its automated border processing stations.
Consumers are using the technology, too
While some try to limit the use of facial recognition technology by governments, it is rapidly being used by companies – and consumers.
One of the new tools for consumers is called CreepShield. It’s a software tool that plugs directly into web browsers. Once installed, people can quickly scan any picture they see on Facebook or online dating sites to see if that person is a registered sex offender.
CreepShield’s founder defended the program to the Guardian, essentially arguing that if you don’t have anything to hide, you don’t have anything to worry about. Sex offenders, he told the paper, “have no right to privacy.”