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Can Data Protection be Guaranteed with the use of Facial Recognition Technology?

Facial recognition technology has undoubtedly brought convenience to our daily life. However, facial recognition protests have also been ignited. The clamors were for the right to remain anonymous in crowds and the freedom to protest without individuals being flagged or tracked down. For the government, it was a matter of surveillance for state security.

Use Cases of Facial Recognition

It is very apparent that the biometric application used to identify or verify an individual’s identity using their face has become rather commonplace in our daily activities. On social media, this technology is used for tagging people in photos and in mobile devices, a form of security. In countries like China and USA, some airports use this technology to check people in and to monitor the attentiveness of pupils in classes.

Bypassing Privacy Regulations

Due to the significant absence of stringent regulations so far, private and public parastatals in both authoritarian and democratic states have been using and abusing this technology in several use cases. There is yet to be a standard agreed upon in many societies as to the ethics pertaining to the use of facial recognition, thereby breeding doubts regarding compliance with the established laws and more so, the probability of whether or not the technology will survive the critics on its ethical use.

At first glance, the intended use of the recognition technology seems harmless – to verify identities against a presented face at national borders for identification and security. However, to identify a person by comparing their facial image against a pool of several other known individuals speaks to another level of intrusion.

Drivers of Facial Recognition Trend

There are two major drivers behind this technological trend.

The first driver is security. Countries are poised to aggressively protect their borders mostly from foreigners who might pose threats of crime and terrorism to them. Facial recognition helps provide such amount of security – scrutinizing each face and comparing it to a database of wanted individuals.

The second driver is convenience. In this regard, physical and mental efforts required to perform some tasks become automated. With facial recognition, people can easily gain access to anywhere or anything by a simple facial scan – no need to provide any form of ID or document. In mobile devices especially, users no longer have to remember their passwords. A quick glance at their camera would unlock their device and of course, this can only be done by the device owner.

Jumping the Hoops of Privacy Laws

The issues with this technology are almost in violation of the EU data protection rights or better still, are the exploitation of grey areas.

The first is the fact that according to the GDPR Art. 2(14), the data protection rule allows the use of biometric data for the confirmation of identity with that of the natural person. It however forbids the use of this data for unique identification purposes except under special conditions in Art. 9(2).

Secondly, the use of this technology which might tend to interference with human rights must be deemed necessary and this really begs the question, is there no better technology that can be used to achieve just what facial recognition technology does without breaking fundamental human rights?

Third, the methods by which data is being collected and used is tainted with obscurity. No one knows for sure who collects this data, how long they are kept, how to trace the origin, and many more. The use of this technology does not do well with accountability and transparency.

Living with Privacy Infringement

Given the aforementioned, the onus lies on all and sundry to clamor for clear and concise laws regarding the acquisition, use, and storage of data. It is pertinent that these laws touch every corner and leave no grey area that can be exploited by these private and public institutions. Asides this, it is essential that Internet users read privacy policies and understand the agreement before deciding to share their personal data with them. This would go a long way in reducing personal data exploitation.

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