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The commercial use of facial recognition technology has caused
concern among privacy advocates.
What is facial recognition technology?
Facial recognition technology breaks down the face into micro
measurements, such as the distance between the eyes, the nose to
the upper lip, lower lip to point of jaw, ears to eyes and so on -
measurements creating a digital “faceprint” which is
unique to every individual.
Once these metric measurements have been taken and recorded, a
camera linked to the technology can search a crowd and pick out
that face from hundreds of others.
It is very useful for police and security authorities. It is
used in new passports. Access security scans could use it like a
fingerprint or eye scan.
Concerns about privacy, safety and inappropriate use of
Some private companies have stored facial data from police
“wanted” posters, online news sources and the publicly
available social media posts of unsuspecting people, with a view to
selling this data.
One US company, Clearview AI, claimed it had amassed more than
ten billion facial images. Not bad, when the world population is
just 7.9 billion.
Individuals who could be endangered by this include children,
those escaping domestic violence and victims of crime.
Users of the technology can upload a photo of a person’s
face and find other photos of that person collected from the
internet and stored on a database compiled by the tool. That can
show where the photos were taken and identify the person.
With public access to this technology via a commercial outlet,
you could secretly take a picture of a person in the street or on
the beach, upload it to the company’s database and discover
their name and private details.
Australian Privacy Commissioner finding on Clearview AI
A commercial company that takes people’s personal data
without permission from the internet and links it through such
facial recognition technology for profit is in breach of privacy
under Australian law.
Australian Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk investigated and
found Clearview had breached the Australian Privacy Act 1988 by collecting
sensitive and personal information by unfair means and without
The Commissioner ordered Clearview to stop collecting facial
images and biometric templates from individuals in Australia, and
to destroy all existing images and templates collected in
Clearview said it had only limited trials with Australian police
and was considering a legal appeal.
The federal government has proposed amendments to privacy
legislation, including a binding online privacy code for social
media and larger fines for breaches of privacy.
Global concerns about facial recognition
Commercial use of facial recognition technology is being
challenged around the world.
In 2021 Facebook shut down its face recognition system and
deleted faceprints of more than one billion people after protests
about privacy and misuse. (Please see An Update On Our Use of Face Recognition,
Facebook, 2 November 2021.)
European regulators have taken steps to limit police scanning
faces in public places after false identifications and Clearview
has been barred from operating in several countries. (Please see
Facial recognition: Italian SA fines Clearview AI ? 20 million,
bans use of biometric data and monitoring of Italian data
subjects, Italian data protection authority, 9 March
Identification of spies and the deceased in war
It has also been reported that the technology can be a weapon of
war. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022,
Reuters reported in March that Clearview was being used by
Ukrainian officials to identify dead Russian soldiers in order to
tell their families in Russia what had happened to their loved
It is also being used by the Ukrainians to identify Russian
spies in their ranks. (Please see Ukraine has started using Clearview AI’s
facial recognition during war, Reuters, 15 March
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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