Facial recognition cameras are changing the way surveillance footage tackles crime

Quick Notes

  • The Chinese company Huawei have rolled out their facial recognition cameras in cities across the world

  • Human rights activists believe that this technology may infringe upon the right to individual privacy

  • San Francisco is the first US city to place any form of ban on these cameras

Facial recognition cameras are starting to grow more popular as we move further into the modern age. While many people may hear ‘facial recognition camera’ and immediately think of the (incredibly efficient) way of opening a smartphone using just your face, their newer uses may be somewhat less ethical.

In Belgrade, Serbia, hundreds of facial recognition cameras were rolled out across the city as a security measure. Immediately, there were concerns raised about the ethics behind such a significant surveillance project. While the city claims it’s helped to reduce crime in the millions, opponents argue that it strips a citizen’s right to privacy.

It isn’t just Serbia where these facial recognition cameras are being implemented, either. Hundreds of countries are adopting them to improve their security, including Turkey, Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Angola, Laos, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Uganda, Germany, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom.

An innovation by Huawei that is under fierce scrutiny

The Chinese company Huawei developed the technology, but facial recognition isn’t all the cameras have an aptitude for. Huawei claims their new surveillance technology can be used to prevent a variety of crimes. Their cameras can scan long distances enabling them to pinpoint so-called ‘loiterers,’ calculate the sizes of crowds, and even communicate with command centers if dangerous behavior is suspected.

One such instance of crime-solving that Huawei credits their new technology to is the prosecution of a Serbian hit-and-run driver, who was identified in China following the facial recognition data passed between the two countries accurately identifying him. While it certainly has its pluses, it does all feel somewhat Orwellian.

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Facial recognition works by utilizing biometrics to map out the human face, all while making a note of individual patterns that can be used as identifiers. It uses the collected information to then search through a database of ‘known’ faces (faces that were already in the database) to see if there’s a match. Surveillance cameras can use facial recognition to link an individual to a crime scene, but this is where the morality lines become blurred.

It isn’t like facial recognition is a new form of technology: it has been around since the mid-1960s in varying forms, though, of course, the modern iterations of the technology have been far more sophisticated. The issue with the cameras is the breach of privacy it poses toward many citizens and the question of whether or not this breaches human rights.

San Francisco denies the use of surveillance cameras by law enforcement

In the United States, this question is being posed, and the use of facial recognition cameras is under intense scrutiny. San Francisco recently led the way in the anti-surveillance movement when they announced that facial recognition cameras were banned from being used by law enforcement and other such public entities.

San Francisco is the first American city to make any ban of this kind and did so as part of their movement to make surveillance more transparent. Their overarching aim is to make it so public agencies of all descriptions must make their surveillance obvious, so as not to infringe upon the personal freedoms of an individual.

The interesting question in years to come will be: does practicality outweigh morality?

Still, this isn’t a blanket ban, as it only applies to city departments. Personal, federal, or business properties are still permitted to use facial recognition technology. Predominantly, the issue surrounding these cameras is less to do with their simple existence or prevalence and more to do with how their inaccuracy may lead to false persecution.

Facial recognition technology is phenomenal and provides new and more advanced ways of identification every single day. From smartphones to surveillance cameras, their uses are undeniably practical. The interesting question in years to come will be: does practicality outweigh morality?

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