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article imageOp-Ed: Facial recognition is now a real threat and a real weapon

By Paul Wallis     Jan 18, 2020 in Technology
New York - People have known for some time that facial recognition can be used as a weapon. Now, a company called Clearview has made it easy to invade privacy, and worse is to come.
Facial recognition has been around for a long time. Many people in the tech sector have recognized the dangers, and simply not added to the problem. Now, a company called Clearview has done the work of creating an uncontrollable monster.
The New York Times has a long and very interesting, not to say horrifying, article on how Clearview has opened the floodgates for facial recognition. It’s not just a database, as most facial recognition services now are. It actively searches and matches faces on social media or any other available sources.
Clearview is being used by multiple US agencies already, and sooner or later it’s likely to be hacked by anyone with a few minutes to spare. It’ll go onto the black market, and anyone who wants to find anyone else will be able to do so.
That’s not good news for Clearview or other facial recognition spruikers. Their tech could be construed as a party to murders and other crimes. Stalking, for example, could be a lot easier.
Dumber and dumbest?
One of the reasons for not “weaponizing” facial recognition was that the risks were way too obvious. Clearview, in fact, barely scrapes the surface. There are other ways of managing facial data which could make it even worse, and I’m not about to provide any information about that. This is quite bad enough without adding to it.
Let’s start with the “dumber” issues on the most basic levels:
• Just having a big database is truly dangerous. The database puts anyone on it potentially at risk.
• There are no real working laws to manage anyone’s legal rights when it comes to facial recognition. In bizarre, politics-addled America, legal rights are either protected or destroyed, and there’s usually no middle ground.
• Facial recognition for the purposes of law enforcement or national security is by definition a type of legal identification in practical terms. If you arrest someone because they’re a match, do you have the legal power to do so? You may well have that theoretical right, but the right to arrest can be contested. The basis for the contest would be “How do you know the person you’re looking for is my client?” Evidence requirements go a lot further than just looking a lot like someone else. Expect a lot of expensive false arrest claims, at the very least. Everyone on Earth has a doppelganger. The recognition could and will find lookalikes.
The dumbest side is much less impressive:
• Let’s just say your identity and location are major survival assets. This technology effectively ends any sort of personal security, even in this rather half-ass form.
• The potential for abuse of facial recognition is almost unlimited. China already has its “Social Credit” system, which has effectively turned into a real time tracking system for the entire population. Clearview’s tech can do pretty much the same thing. Dictators and political nutcases will love Clearview.
• Given the psychopathic nature of American “society” and its adorable hate industry, Clearview is already a weapon. Any information about anyone is a potential risk. Any bets on how long it takes for something truly nasty to happen?
• Brain-dead United States lawmakers are too comatose and too insular to act quickly. This is an election year, so it’s all about bots, trolls and fake everything. Nothing will be done about this problem for quite a while.
Is it fixable? Yes.
There are fixes, but any laws will have to be tested. Information obtained by facial recognition must have legal status, to start with. If facial recognition is used as a method of accusation, that accusation must be obliged to prove its value as evidence. “Any old picture of someone” won’t fly as evidence without corroboration.
Any illegal use of facial recognition should be considered a crime in its own right. That’s relatively easy, provided you can prove it contributed to an illegal action.
The right to hold facial recognition data is questionable at best. In theory, it’s a possible invasion of privacy simply because someone has it. In practice, it could be construed as a mix: (a) pictures of someone published lawfully for public use aren’t private, and (b) any picture can be contested for privacy rights otherwise.
In a world where lawmaking decisions are almost invariably as wrong as possible, it’s asking a lot to expect facial recognition laws to be effective, or even realistic. That said, in a saner environment, risks can be accurately assessed and working laws can be made.
Facial recognition tech isn’t unbeatable
Expecting no competence whatsoever from the law, there are other options. This tech is easily beatable, through its own data acquisition methods and something as basic as Photoshop. Anyone with a microscopic amount of technical knowledge could do it. It’s not omnipotent, and certainly not omniscient.
Clearview has taken on a truly deadly type of technology. It can expect to be targeted by good guys, bad guys, and sleazebags. The company has taken a ride on a legal monster, and I’d say 10 of its 15 minutes of fame are already over before it gets buried by companies with much longer reach.
The tech sector was right to avoid this type of facial recognition. It’s dangerous. Don’t expect to be thanked for letting this thing out of its cage. Neither the law nor the society are prepared for this level of intrusion. Some truly bad stuff could happen if someone gets nasty about being recognized.
My advice would be to get the statute laws in place and don’t market this tech to anyone without your own private legal protections in place. This advice is similar to “Don’t go looking for a cliff to drive over”, but it has to be said.
Meanwhile, expect fun and games as people get killed, arrested, etc. This is not going to be a pleasant experience for anyone.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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