[RRE]Your Face Is Not a Bar Code

From: Phil Agre (pagreat_private)
Date: Fri Sep 07 2001 - 15:53:48 PDT

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      Your Face Is Not a Bar Code:
      Arguments Against Automatic Face Recognition in Public Places
      Phil Agre
      Version of 7 September 2001.
      2600 words.
      Copyright 2001 by Phil Agre.  You are welcome to forward this
      article in electronic form to anyone for any noncommercial reason.
      Please do not post it on any Web sites; instead, link to it here:
    Given a digital image of a person's face, face recognition software
    matches it against a database of other images.  If any of the stored
    images matches closely enough, the system reports the sighting to its
    owner.  Research on automatic face recognition has been around for
    decades, but accelerated in the 1990s.  Now it is becoming practical,
    and face recognition systems are being deployed on a large scale.
    Some applications of automatic face recognition systems are relatively
    unobjectionable.  Many facilities have good reasons to authenticate
    everyone who walks in the door, for example to regulate access to
    weapons, money, criminal evidence, nuclear materials, or biohazards.
    When a citizen has been arrested for probable cause, it is reasonable
    for the police to use automatic face recognition to match a mug
    shot of the individual against a database of mug shots of people who
    have been arrested previously.  These uses of the technology should
    be publicly justified, and audits should ensure that the technology
    is being used only for proper purposes.
    Face recognition systems in public places, however, are a matter for
    serious concern.  The issue recently came to broad public attention
    when it emerged that fans attending the Super Bowl had unknowingly
    been matched against a database of alleged criminals, and when the
    city of Tampa deployed a face-recognition system in the nightlife
    district of Ybor City.  But current and proposed uses of face
    recognition are much more widespread, as the resources at the end
    of this article demonstrate in detail.  The time to consider the
    acceptability of face recognition in public places is now, before
    the practice becomes entrenched and people start getting hurt.
    Nor is the problem limited to the scattered cases that have been
    reported thus far.  As the underlying information and communication
    technologies (digital cameras, image databases, processing power,
    and data communications) become radically cheaper over the next two
    decades, face recognition will become dramatically cheaper as well,
    even without assuming major advances in technologies such as image
    processing that are specific to recognizing faces.  Legal constraints
    on the practice in the United States are minimal.  (In Europe the
    data protection laws will apply, providing at least some basic rights
    of notice and correction.)  Databases of identified facial images
    already exist in large numbers (driver's license and employee ID
    records, for example), and new facial-image databases will not be
    hard to construct, with or without the knowledge or consent of the
    people whose faces are captured.  (The images need to be captured
    under controlled conditions, but most citizens enter controlled,
    video-monitored spaces such as shops and offices on a regular basis.)
    It is nearly certain, therefore, that automatic face recognition will
    grow explosively and become pervasive unless action is taken now.
    I believe that automatic face recognition in public places, including
    commercial spaces such as shopping malls that are open to the public,
    should be outlawed.  The dangers outweigh the benefits.  The necessary
    laws will not be passed, however, without overwhelming pressure of
    public opinion and organizing.  To that end, this article presents
    the arguments against automatic face recognition in public places,
    followed by responses to the most common arguments in favor.
    Arguments against automatic face recognition in public places
     * The potential for abuse is astronomical.  Pervasive automatic
    face recognition could be used to track individuals wherever they go.
    Systems operated by different organizations could easily be networked
    to cooperate in tracking an individual from place to place, whether
    they know the person's identity or not, and they can share whatever
    identities they do know.  This tracking information could be used
    for many purposes.  At one end of the spectrum, the information could
    be leaked to criminals who want to understand a prospective victim's
    travel patterns.  Information routinely leaks from databases of all
    sorts, and there is no reason to believe that tracking databases will
    be any different.  But even more insidiously, tracking information can
    be used to exert social control.  Individuals will be less likely to
    contemplate public activities that offend powerful interests if they
    know that their identity will be captured and relayed to anyone that
    wants to know.
     * The information from face recognition systems is easily combined
    with information from other technologies.  Industry often refers to
    face recognition as "facial recognition" because they regard faces as
    one modality of identification among many.  Among the many "biometric"
    identification technologies, face recognition requires the least
    cooperation from the individual.  Automatic fingerprint reading, by
    contrast, requires an individual to press a finger against a machine.
    (It will eventually be possible to identify people by the DNA-bearing
    cells that they leave behind, but that technology is a long way
    from becoming ubiquitous.)  Organizations that have good reasons to
    identify individuals should employ whatever technology has the least
    inherent potential for abuse, yet very few identification technologies
    have more potential for abuse than face recognition.  Information
    from face recognition systems is also easily combined with so-called
    location technologies such as E-911 location tracking in cell phones,
    thus further adding to the danger of abuse.
     * The technology is hardly foolproof.  Among the potential downsides
    are false positives, for example that so-and-so was "seen" on a
    street frequented by drug dealers.  Such a report will create "facts"
    that the individual must explain away.  Yet the conditions for image
    capture and recognition in most public places are far from ideal.
    Shadows, occlusions, reflections, and multiple uncontrolled light
    sources all increase the risk of false positives.  As the database
    of facial images grows bigger, the chances of a false match to one of
    those images grows proportionally larger.
     * Many social institutions depend on the difficulty of putting names
    to faces without human intervention.  If people could be identified
    just from looking in a shop window or eating in a restaurant, it
    would be a tremendous change in our society's conception of the
    human person.  People would find strangers addressing them by name.
    Prospective customers walking into a shop could find that their
    credit reports and other relevant information had already been pulled
    up and displayed for the sales staff before they even inquire about
    the goods.  Even aside from the privacy invasion that this represents,
    premature disclosure of this sort of information could affect the
    customer's bargaining position.
     * The public is poorly informed about the capabilities of the cameras
    that are already ubiquitous in many countries.  They usually do not
    realize, for example, what can be done with the infrared component
    of the captured images.  Even the phrase "face recognition" does
    not convey how easily the system can extract facial expressions.
    It is not just "identity" that can be captured, then, but data that
    reaches into the person's psyche.  Even if the public is adequately
    informed about the capabilities of this year's cameras, software and
    data sharing can be improved almost invisibly next year.
     * It is very hard to provide effective notice of the presence and
    capabilities of cameras in most public places, much less obtain
    meaningful consent.  Travel through many public places, for example
    government offices and centralized transportation facilities,
    is hardly a matter of choice for any individual wishing to live
    in the modern world.  Even in the private sector, many retail
    industries (groceries, for example) are highly concentrated, so that
    consumers have little choice but to submit to the dominant company's
    surveillance practices.
     * If face recognition technologies are pioneered in countries where
    civil liberties are relatively strong, it becomes more likely that
    they will also be deployed in countries where civil liberties hardly
    exist.  In twenty years, at current rates of progress, it will be
    feasible for the Chinese government to use face recognition to track
    the public movements of everyone in the country.
    Responses to arguments in favor of automatic face recognition in
    public places
     * "All of the people in our database are wanted criminals.  We don't
    store any of the images that our cameras capture, except when they
    match an image in the database.  So the only people who have any cause
    for complaint are criminals."
    The problems with this argument are numerous:
    (1) We have to trust your word that the only people whose images are
    stored in the database are wanted criminals, and we have to trust
    your word that you throw away all of the images that fail to match
    the database.
    (2) You don't really know yourself whether all of the people in the
    database are criminals.  Quality control on those databases is far
    from perfect, as the database of "felons" that was used to purge some
    Florida counties' electoral rolls in 2000 demonstrated.
    (3) Even if the only people in the database today are criminals, the
    forces pushing us down a slippery slope of every-expanding databases
    are nearly overwhelming.  Once the system is established and working,
    why not add people with criminal records who have served their time?
    Then we could add alleged troublemakers who have been ejected from
    businesses in the past but have never been convicted of crimes, people
    who have been convicted of minor offenses such as shoplifting, people
    with court orders to stay away from certain places, missing persons,
    children whose parents are worried about them, elders whose children
    are worried about them, employees of the business where the system is
    operating, and other individuals who have signed contracts agreeing to
    be tracked.  And once those people are added, it is then a short step
    to add many other categories of people as well. 
     * "Public is public.  If someone happens to notice you walking in
    the park, you have no grounds for complaint if they decide to tell
    someone else where you were.  That's all we're doing.  You don't have
    any reasonable expectation of privacy in a public place, and I have a
    free-speech right to communicate factual information about where you
    A human being who spots me in the park has the accountability that
    someone can spot them as well.  Cameras are much more anonymous and
    easy to hide.  More important is the question of scale.  Most people
    understand the moral difference between a single chance observation
    in a park and an investigator who follows you everywhere you go.  The
    information collected in the second case is obviously more dangerous.
    What is more, custom and law have always recognized many kinds of
    privacy in public.  For example, the press cannot publish pictures of
    most people in personally sensitive situations that have no legitimate
    news value.  It is considered impolite to listen in on conversations
    in public.  Pervasive face recognition clearly lies at the morally
    most problematic end of this spectrum.  The chance of being spotted
    is different from the certainty of being tracked.
    The phrase "reasonable expectation of privacy" comes from a US Supreme
    Court decision.  The phrase has been widely criticized as useless,
    since reason that reasonable expectations of privacy in a situation
    can disappear as soon as someone starts routinely invading privacy
    in that situation.  The problem is an often-exploited ambiguity in
    the word "expectation", which can mean either a prediction (with no
    logical implication that the world morally *ought* to hold conform
    to it) or a norm (with no logical implication that the world actually
    *will* conform to it).  In arguing in favor of a ban on automatic face
    recognition in public places, one is not arguing for a blanket "right
    of privacy in public", which would be unreasonable and impractical.
    Rather, one is arguing for a right against technologically mediated
    privacy invasions of certain types.  Technological mediation is key
    because of its continuous operation, standardized results, lack of
    other legitimate purposes, and rapidly dropping costs.
    The argument about free speech rights is spurious because the proposed
    ban is not on the transfer of information, but on the creation of
    certain kinds of electronic records.  You still have the right to
    communicate the same information if you acquire it in other ways.
     * "Automatic face recognition stops crime.  Police say they want it.
    And if it prevents one child from being killed then I support it."
    A free society is a society in which there are limits on what the
    police can do.  If we want to remain a free society then we need
    to make a decision.  Once a new surveillance technology is installed,
    it is nearly impossible to stop the slippery slope toward ever broader
    law enforcement use of it.  The case of automatic toll collection
    makes this clear.  Absent clear legal protections, then, we should
    assume from the beginning that any technology that captures personal
    information will be used for law enforcement purposes, and not only in
    cases where lives are immediately at stake.  The potential for abuse
    should then be figured into our decision about whether the technology
    should be deployed at all.  That said, it is hardly proven that face
    recognition stops crime, when face recognition is being added to a
    world that already contains many other crime-fighting technologies.
    The range of crime detection technologies available to the police
    has grown immensely in recent years, and even if one encountered a
    case where a crime was solved using a given technology it by no means
    follows that the crime would not have been solved equally well using
    some other technology.
     * "Privacy prevents the marketplace from functioning efficiently.
    When a company knows more about you, it can tailor its offerings
    more specifically to your needs.  Of course if you ask people whether
    scary face recognition systems should be banned then they'll say yes.
    But you're asking the wrong question.  The right question is whether
    people are willing to give up information in exchange for something
    of value, and most people are."
    This is a non sequitur.  Few proposals for privacy protection prevent
    people from voluntarily handing information about themselves to
    companies with which they wish to do business.  The problem arises
    when information is transferred without the individual's knowledge,
    and in ways that might well cause upset or harm if they became known.
    What distinguishes automatic face recognition from many other equally
    good identification technologies is that it can be used without the
    individual's permission (and therefore without the individual having
    agreed to any exchange).  That is why it should be banned.
     * "A preoccupation with privacy is corrosive.  Democracy requires
    people to have public personae, and excessive secrecy is unhealthy."
    Privacy does not equal secrecy.  Privacy means that an individual has
    reasonable control over what information is made public, and what is
    not.  Any decent social order requires that individuals be entrusted
    with this judgement.  Even if particular individuals choose to become
    secretive in a pathological way, forcing them to change will not help
    the situation and is intrinsincally wrong anyway.  As to the value of
    public personae, we should encourage the development of technologies
    that give people the option to appear publicly where and how they want.
     * "What do you have to hide?"
    This line is used against nearly every attempt to protect personal
    privacy, and the response in each case is the same.  People have lots
    of valid reasons, personal safety for example, to prevent particular
    others from knowing particular information about them.  Democracy only
    works if groups can organize and develop their political strategies
    in seclusion from the government, and from any established interests
    they might be opposing.  This includes, for example, the identities of
    people who might travel through public places to gather for a private
    political meeting.  In its normal use, the question "What do you have
    to hide?" stigmatizes all personal autonomy as anti-social.  As such
    it is an authoritarian demand, and has no place in a free society.
    For more responses to bad arguments against privacy, see:
    News articles with background on face recognition.
    Facial-Recognition System Gets Millions in Federal Funds
    Facial ID Systems Raising Concerns About Privacy
    Facial-Recognition Tech Has People Pegged
    Face Scanners Turn Lens on Selves
    Face-Recognition Systems Offer New Tools, but Mixed Results
    How Facial Recognition Software Finds Faces
    Law Enforcement Agencies Working on 3D Face Recognition Technology
    Face-Recognition Technology Raises Fears of Big Brother
    Seeking Clues to Recognition ... in Your Face
    Smile, You're On Scan Camera
    Other sites with background information on face recognition technology
    and its potential for privacy invasion.
    Electronic Privacy Information Center Face Recognition Page
    Coalition Declares December 24, 2001 to Be "World Subjectrights Day"
    Facial Recognition Vendor Test 2000
    Selected Facial Scan Projects
    US government site for biometric technology (including face recognition)
    Facing the Truth: A New Tool to Analyze Our Expressions
    Biometrics: Face Recognition Technology
    Automatic Face and Gesture Recognition, Washington, 20-21 May 2002
    the two dominant face recognition companies
    other companies
    Web pages about technical research projects on face recognition.
    directory of face recognition research
    Face Recognition and Detection
    DoD Counterdrug Program Face Recognition Technology Program
    Wearable Face Recognition and Detection
    Identification of Faces From Video
    Evaluation of Face Recognition Algorithms
    slides from an MIT course on human and artificial face recognition
    Gesture Recognition Home Page (related technology)
    Articles about face-recognition controversies in various places,
    roughly in reverse chronological order.
    Borders stores
    first Borders says it "suspended any plans to implement" face recognition ...
    ... then it denies that it ever had any such intention
    Borders is planning to use face recognition to identify shop-lifters
    Smart Cameras at Casinos Spark a Debate on Privacy
    Privacy Commissioner Reassures Public That Casinos Are Not Scanning All Patrons
    OPP uses secret cameras in casinos
    ("police are secretly scanning the faces of customers at all Ontario casinos")
    Global Cash Access Signs New Contracts With 20 Gaming Properties
    (face-recognizing ATM machines in casinos)
    Smile! You're on Casino Camera
    Virginia Beach, Virginia
    Technology Helps Authorities Keep a Constant Eye on Public
    Beach May Scan Oceanfront Faces
    Huntington Beach, California
    Imagis and ORION Chosen to Install Biometrics by Huntington Beach Police
    Jacksonville, Florida
    Police Snooper Camera Fight Still Alive
    Florida City Moves to Ban Face-Recognition System
    Pinellas County, Florida
    Face Recognition System Will Be Used by Florida Sheriff's Office
    Think Tank Urges Face-Scanning of the Masses
    face recognition technology in the UK
    Newham Council Launches "Face Recognition" in the UK
    Joyrider, 14, Is First Tagging Guinea Pig
    Colorado Governor Doesn't Want Face Recognition Technology Abused
    Colorado Won't Use Facial Recognition Technology on Licenses
    Colorado To Use Face Recognition Photos To Stop ID Theft
    Colorado to "Map" Faces of Drivers
    Minnesota Adopts Visionics' FaceIt for Integrated Mug Shot Database System
    Super Bowl
    Face Scans Match Few Suspects
    ACLU Protests High-Tech Super Bowl Surveillance
    Super Bowl Surveillance: Facing Up to Biometrics
    Feds Use Biometrics Against Super Bowl Fans
    Cameras Scanned Fans for Criminals
    Tampa, Florida
    Facial Frisking in Tampa
    complete directory of Tampa news articles through early August from the ACLU
    "Big Brother" Cameras on Watch for Criminals
    "They made me feel like a criminal"
    Tampa Face-Recognition Vote Rattles Privacy Group
    Civil Rights or Just Sour Grapes?
    Tampa City Council meeting which voted to keep the face recognition cameras
    Click. BEEP! Face Captured
    Tampa Gets Ready For Its Closeup
    Masked Protesters Fight Face Scans
    Tampa Puts Face-Recognition System on Public Street
    Congressional Leader Calls for Action on Ybor City Surveillance
    (Ybor City is a busy nightlife neighborhood of Tampa)
    ACLU Probes Police Use of Facial-Recognition Cameras in Florida City
    Tampa Scans the Faces in Its Crowds for Criminals
    public radio report about the controversy
    Ybor Police Cameras Go Spy-Tech

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Fri Sep 07 2001 - 16:00:11 PDT