This is the question a passenger flying on JetBlue had when she was asked to look at a camera for an identity check rather than use her photo ID. You can imagine how creepy and unnerving that may have felt. Especially since it was done without any prior notification at the airport.
According to an article in Interesting Engineering, JetBlue unilaterally created a secure connection to a Department of Homeland Security database that contains the pictures of an undisclosed number of people. The DHS states that the images are part of what is termed “existing holdings,” itself an ambiguous phrasing. Do the pictures come from passport applicants? Driver license bureaus? Photo booths at shopping arcades?
The use of facial recognition has many people in the privacy and personal liberty community concerned over the potential for misuse. In the wrong hands, facial recognition can lead to complete loss of privacy. Hollywood has already made movies about the use of this biometric data to monitor and control people in repressive regimes.
Take the example of how it is being used today in China. According to the article, China combines facial recognition technology with social media account data to determine the credit scores of people while they are on the street going about their daily business. Seems like an odd application of the technology. In some Chinese classrooms, systems monitor the faces of students to identify those children not paying attention. Chinese roadways have cameras installed over every lane at regular intervals and photograph the front seat occupants of every vehicle that passes by.
These three examples show just how intrusive this technology can become. Proponents of its use point to the benefits facial recognition can deliver. Taylor Swift uses a system to scan for stalkers in the crowd at her concerts. JetBlue and Delta use it to speed up and enhance the security of the check-in process. To be sure, it is more secure as photo documents can be forged. Still, it leaves us more than a little concerned about the bad outweighing the good.
Biometric data is an excellent security approach. Look at the widespread use of fingerprint scanners on PCs, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. That certainly improves the security of the device and its data. In addition to fingerprint scanners, security products exist that use palm geometry, body geometry, and retina scanning to identify individuals accessing secure areas positively. However, most of these technologies do not lend themselves to mass application. They are really only useful at individual points of access.
Facial recognition, on the other hand, can potentially be applied anywhere a video camera is in use. According to an article by National Geographic, 106,000,000 new video cameras are sold annually. That is a scary number. Particularly for anyone who has read George Orwell’s novel, “1984.” He is the one who coined the term, “Big Brother,” and the phrase, “Big Brother is watching you.” In 1949, it was the stuff of science fiction. In the 21st Century, it is a fact of life.
Skudo’s business is data security. Our unique hardware and software products make it nearly impossible to decode and misuse data. We are founded on the premise that data privacy and security is essential to properly functioning democracies. Unfortunately, our products don’t prevent the capture of facial data from millions of cameras. For that, a good old-fashioned ski mask may be the next big thing in fashion.
Learn more about what we can do to protect your data today. It’s never to soon to make sure your data and communications are secure against malicious use.