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Nov 24 2015   11:57PM GMT

How You’re Helping Governments Build Facial Recognition Databases

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher

Facial recognition

Smile. You’re on the government’s camera.

Increasingly, governments are able to identify people using facial recognition software, and are collecting databases of people’s faces – not just criminals, but regular, ordinary people. Generally, there’s no laws against it.

And what’s more, we’re helping them do it.

Collectors of such images range from border security to law enforcement organizations to even retailers. “Before taking her away, Officer Rob Halverson paused in the front yard, held a Samsung Galaxy tablet up to the woman’s face and snapped a photo,” writes Ali Winston, of a program in San Diego. “Halverson fiddled with the tablet with his index finger a few times, and – without needing to ask the woman’s name or check her identification – her mug shot from a previous arrest, address, criminal history and other personal information appeared on the screen.”

Photos used in the system come from the statewide law enforcement database, which includes 32 million driver’s license photos, Winston writes. The county is also looking at using mug shots from statewide gang and parolee databases, he adds.

Similarly, Australia announced earlier this year that it was spending $18.5 million to create a database of facial photos – including photos from Facebook and Instagram — for use in federal law enforcement. “The images can come from drivers’ licences, passport photos or security cameras in your local shopping center,” write Margot O’Neill and Amy Sherden for ABC Australia.

The FBI has a similar program. Incidentally, the system has a 20 percent failure rate in terms of identification.

There’s also the security aspect. “If your passport, credit card, PIN or tax file number are compromised due to a security breach, they can be replaced fairly easily,” writes Adam Molnar in The Conversation. “Not so with your facial features. If a biometric database is hacked, the information can potentially be abused by criminals over your entire life.”

Coincidentally, there’s suddenly a swarm of games out there that seem to have the goal of collecting facial photographs. Earlier this year, Microsoft’s “How Old Do I Look” analyzer swept through Facebook. Were the results right? Were they wrong? Who cares? The point is, within a few hours, Microsoft had tens of thousands of new facial photographs.

Proposed uses include verifying whether two faces in separate photos belong to the same person, or using one person’s photos to find him or her in multiple other photos,” writes CBC News. You know, like searching photos of a demonstration to identify protesters.

For what it’s worth, the developers now say the site doesn’t save the photo. “No we don’t store photos, we don’t share them and we only use them to guess your age and gender,” write Corom Thompson and Santosh Balasubramanian, Engineers in Information Management and Machine Learning at Microsoft, who wrote a blog post about it. “The photos are discarded from memory once we guess. While we use the terms of service very common in our industry, and similar to most other online services, we have chosen not to store or use the photos in any way other than to temporarily process them to guess your age.”

But even assuming that’s true, how many people even thought about that aspect before trying to find out how young they looked? Even without saving the pictures, the database now has a lot more practice identifying people. And just because this app doesn’t save photos, how about other apps?

More recently, there’s the “My Most-Used Words on Facebook” app, which not only looks at the words you’ve posted in the past year but every picture that’s been posted – which most people didn’t even notice, writes Paul Bischoff.Over 16 million people have agreed to give up almost every private detail about themselves to a company they likely know nothing about just to play a quiz,” he writes.  In addition to a boatload of information about yourself and your friends, it also has access to all the photos you’re tagged in.

Like Microsoft, the word cloud app vendor, Vonvon, said it didn’t save the data, and later allowed people to edit the permissions for their personal information. But again – how many people even thought to look at the permissions?

(And now there’s a new one, Which is Your Most-Liked Photo On Facebook?)

Or there’s the recent trend toward “gigapixel” super-high resolution photos of enormous sporting events, where the more than 100,000 attendees are not only perfectly identifiable, but are encouraged to helpfully tag themselves and their friends. It takes only 2 minutes and 40 seconds to photograph an entire stadium, and the company specializing in the process says it typically has eight such projects every weekend.

It may be that all these apps are perfectly innocent. But we don’t know. And until we do, it behooves us to be careful – at least til we find out who’s on the other side of the camera.

2  Comments on this Post

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  • meangene
    now people will steal ur face to do crimes and get u convicted. Sounds like something from the future. But progress will build it and make it cheap for criminals and ordinary people to obtain. U will be arrested and tried because ur poor. And cant afford a lawyer and a appointed lawyer cant spend time to prove u innocent
    15 pointsBadges:
  • Rheaeck55
    Ass why did you let me write it if i couldnt print it? I could have changed It surprises me how many people no nothing about technology.I had the chance to meet with some people in high tech jobs snd even mac genious bar. I research because I have not much else to do and I know people have family and jobs but if you do not keep up you will be possibly very very sorry. First off I got querks, then full take over by kids maybe and in having to research myself with books because what I was describing was psychotic. Actually is very easy to do. However if you think face recognition is high tech, it may be more noticable but high technology isn't just going to know your face. It is going to take over your life. If you don't think so unplug and don't use any electronics. It does not inconvience you, it stops you life. They have already mapped out the brain enough for it to be reverseengineered into a robot. Well you say "he can feth my slippers" This A.I brain is smarter than you to begin with then it is self learning making itself smarter through nodes just like the brains synapes so it can learn, but it leans faster as Ray Kurzweil says "It grows exponentually" which means the smarter it gets the faster it gets smarter. This is not science fiction but when i told a genious about infrared light he looked at me like I was an idiot. What worries me is the hybrid half computer half genetic devices. One example is the one that makes financial decisions for big companies using natural selection just like evolution. They put one vector in a machine and it replicates. It kills the weak vectors and allows the strong to live. This machine is half genetic like a genetic virus killing off a weaker virus. what do viruses do? Adapt so now they run companies. Top economists say soon they will run global finance. What happens when it decides we are the weak vectors or viruses? Just a thought. tip if you have any Windows products use scramble encryption really you best bet would be download Linux because half of you disc is free and split with one command Linux will fill the space . Make good passwords. Keep your products up to date with a good security system. Oh I agree the police and government are overstepping their bonds but I don't think they would change your face however photo shop is pretty advanced too. Big Brother is more like abusive drunk Dad.
    15 pointsBadges:

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