How will facial recognition shape our society?

By Giovani Westermann

Throughout 2023, Just Peace will be publishing articles by students at InHolland University of Applied Science's Sustainable Media Lab!

We have all seen it happen in movies, a character (usually Tom Cruise for some reason) walks up to a door, his face gets scanned by a facial recognition program, and: voila! The door opens after recognizing his face.

Facial recognition works because of a certain facial analyzer that works by measuring and identifying facial features. This means that it can identify human faces in video or pictures. It can also scan a larger file of collections to search for a specific photo with an individual on it.

The same goes for criminals or people on the run. With a picture of a mugshot, they let facial recognition programs run through all the live CCTV footage in the entire world, and before you know it the authorities have an exact match, location, and time of the person they are looking for.

Facial recognition is a very effective tool to use in movies. It’s exciting, high-tech, suspenseful, and thus fun to watch!

Even though it’s exciting, high-tech, and suspenseful it’s a good thing we can’t have this in the real world. Because imagine you are always being followed on the street by every single camera and your face getting scanned constantly without you even knowing. There is no way this could happen, or better yet there is no way that’s already happening, right? Right?

Well, unfortunately, that’s wrong. Facial recognition is slowly starting to make its way into our society. In London, authorities have already started to use this technology next to a tube station. They put up a van with scanning equipment and scanned around 15,600 people walking passed it. Most of those people never know they got scanned and no one permitted it either. Some people were made aware by an action group that facial recognition was being used. After finding this out, one man tried to cover up his face because he didn’t want to get scanned and got arrested for it.

In China, facial recognition systems are already used throughout the entire country. The cameras log nearly every single civilian and can follow them wherever they go.

Because this technology is still quite new and not many people are aware of it happening yet, there are no federal laws for the use of facial technology. This means that it can be easily abused by following everything a person does and innocent people might become victims of this system.

Sure, if the facial recognition system does its job well it means that people that are wanted or a risk to society can be easily found and surveillance. But is this really the way to do that? Throw everyone’s privacy aside to catch some bad guys. Especially when barely any people are aware that it’s even happening this feels like an unreasonable thing to do.

Perhaps the movies guessed all along what the world was gonna come to be. But does that mean we should just accept that this is part of our future, or is there still time to prevent it? I guess only the future will tell…..

The Sustainable Media Lab brings together researchers, practitioners, and students to explore the rapidly changing technical environment we find ourself in. These articles were written by students in the Fall 2022 student cohort.

Photo by Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash