Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Say Cheese: Facial Recognition and Privacy Rights
Photo courtesy of Chris Seary on Flickr
What was once fantastic in the 1980’s has quickly become a reality in 2011. Technology that audiences oohed and ahhed in scenes of Robocop or The Terminator have become the technology that is currently seeking to put criminals behind bars. Full body scans at the airport represent not just a leap in x-ray tech but also a battleground of privacy and constitutional rights debates. In the fight against crime BI2 Technologies developed a product that seeks to put more power into police officers’ hands, and I’m not talking about his gun.
BI2 is currently marketing an iPhone additive that will allow police and other law enforcement officials to take pictures of peoples’ faces and link those pictures to records for identification. This MORIS technology links the iPhone to biometric databases that record facial features, iris patterns and fingerprints. This technology has the potential to allow law enforcement to take a picture of anybody walking down the street, instantly run a background check and pull their record.
While it is legal to photograph individuals in public places, this technology begs the question of whether privacy rights as protected under the Fourth Amendment will be violated. Probable cause seems to go out the widow with the realities of facial recognition technology. Similar issues have been raised when it comes to GPS tracking and whether or not the comings and goings of a person should be protected. Facial recognition is the new frontier of technology going hand in hand with law enforcement. This emerging technology, while not implemented currently, has the potential to serve the public good while simultaneously raising legal red flags.
This technology, outside of law enforcement, would be able to serve many functions without running into legal issues. It could be used privately as a way to keep track of employee or client data. It could also be very well used in protecting data as an alternative to alphanumerical passwords. Biometrics is the future of data protection as it is much less susceptible to hacker intrusions.
Use of this technology in law enforcement will undoubtedly be a source of debate. Critics of facial recognition will raise arguments that include probable cause requirements as well as privacy issues. The Fourth Amendment ensures the American citizen freedom from unreasonable search and seizures and that they be secure in their persons. An officer with an iPhone may be able to circumvent these constitutional protections.
Privacy rights and the debates surrounding them have been ever present in current news. Proponents of strict privacy rights have been vociferous in their condemnation of all invasive technology as well as invasive practices seeking to secure public safety. The question is going to be whether the public is willing to allow for flexibility in privacy rights in order to foster a safer living environment. Technology like biometrics has the potential to be used very effectively and for positive change, if we allow it. A firestorm from a myriad of social and legal groups will meet these technologies head on as they are slated for production and dissemination.
Future tech will continue to evolve in spite of legal debates and public opinion. If something has the potential for so much good, should we condemn it on the grounds of law and tradition?
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