Facial Recognition Databases


by Cesar Plascencia September 05, 2018

Peace y'all! Cesar with Elevated Thoughts here, trying to touch base with everybody on an issue that's been bugging me for years. Facial recognition databases have been playing a strong role in both law enforcement agencies and social media for several years now and I feel that either not enough people are aware of it, or just plain don't give a fuck. But in my opinion, our faces ending up in a facial recognition database is inevitable now, especially with this rapid advancement of technology we've been witnessing. So my question is: why shouldn't you give a fuck?

Face Recognition; what is that? According to a non-profit digital rights group known as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, face recognition "is a method of identifying or verifying the identity of an individual using their face. Face recognition systems can be used to identify people in photos, video, or in real-time. Law enforcement may also use mobile devices to identify people during police stops." 

Face recognition databases has peaked human interest for decades. Since the late 2000's, however, when cellphones were replaced by personal handheld computers known as smartphones, the use of social media websites blew up; facial recognition databases shortly followed. 

When I learned about facial recognition databases back in 2012 while attending the College of Southern Nevada, I had a gut feeling that it's not as good as law enforcement agencies and companies make it seem. Facebook claims they use facial recognition databases to help 'connect' people to pictures they're in and may be unaware of. Law enforcement agencies tell us that they use these databases to help with investigations and detaining criminals. Hell, even the National Security Agency (national intelligence agency) have their own extensive facial recognition database known as Tundra Freeze. The last two don't seem so bad, right? They do it to capture criminals and potential threats to our national security. But, as we all know, too much of anything is bad. Especially when data about us is collected without our consent or knowledge of it. So, why should we be concerned about our data and facial recognition databases?

To this date, Facebook has faced a total of 16 class action lawsuits for violating both state and federal laws dealing with privacy. The biggest controversy is with Cambridge Analytica LLC, an analytics firm that, in 2014, gathered data from over 87 million Facebook users without permission. That might include your data. Your likes, dislikes, comments, political views, hobbies, preferences; the list goes on. This also includes pictures of you. Think of it as a profile of you that was created without your permission. It goes from small analytic companies up to Big Brother. The FBI, CIA, NSA all have information of you which even includes arrest records, Social Security numbers, passport photos and so on. Cambridge Analytica, however, deals specifically with political analytics. So if your data was breached, it was used to influence political elections. The power it gives people to influence elections is unimaginable. This is just one company by the way. Other companies that gather data (legally or illegally) may sell your information so companies can use it for marketing purposes. This is not limited to just Facebook either. This includes ALL social media apps; Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, Vimeo, LinkedIn, etc. 5 years ago, digital forensics examiner Richard Hickman found that not only does Snapchat save your photos/videos to the app, but they also save to your phone. But who knows, the research was done 5 years ago; maybe developers have changed Snapchat settings to keep their word and actually DELETE your data after 24 hours. 

Back to facial recognition databases. The NSA gathers millions of images per day and store it in their database. Their main objective is to capture suspected terrorists, both at home and abroad. But if their information was as accurate as they claim, they would've had the ability to interfere with the mass shootings that have occurred in our nation for the last few years. Years ago I read a report that if you used the word 'Mexico' in any form of digital communication; that you'd be targeted by the NSA. Are you fucking kidding me? What's really troubling (besides our invasion of privacy) is that facial recognition is not 100% accurate. In the FBI's (Federal Bureau of Investigation) biometric identification system, known as Next Generation Identification, there is a 15% chance of inaccuracy in face recognition scans and are more likely to misidentify black people than white people. Face recognition softwares used by the FBI have difficulty in distinguishing between dark skinned faces and aren't routinely checked for accuracy either. Since there is a heavier police presence in black communities around the nation and blacks have higher arrest/incarceration rates among any other race, they are over enrolled into facial recognition databases. To top it off, black people are more likely to be subjected to a facial recognition scan via body cameras by police during any type of interaction. Congressmen and the Government Accountability Office have grilled the FBI on these issues before. Although all evidence points to a racially biased database, the FBI claims their systems do not need to be tested for racial bias because the algorithms used for identification is based on facial features, not skin color. Say there is an arrest. Even if the defendant is found innocent in a court of law, their mugshot and police report remains in these databases, furthering the issue on how inaccurate and unreliable facial recognition is. 

It doesn't end there. I've mentioned about certain companies that are in the business of gathering your data and selling it. One of them is Verint Systems, an analytics company who last year acquired a surveillance company named Terrogence. Started by an ex-Israeli intelligence officer, Terrogence is in business to do just that; acquire photos and videos through major social media outlets, entering it through their facial recognition software called Face-Int; then exploiting this data for profit. A well known client of Terrogence is..the U.S. government. Terrogence claims their services are to help combat terrorism online but have been found to use these databases for political gain as well. What does this mean for the rest of us? Well, it means we are all subjected to bias. When we are entered into a facial recognition database, we can be mistook as a criminal; especially with the proven inaccuracy and racially biased databases. In some softwares, it's information that may or may not be true about us that's collected to make judgements about us. We truly have no control over the information they collect about us. 

My advice to you? Just be aware. Be careful what you say and how you say it. Be sure to read what information is collected in every app, how it's used, what permissions you give to apps, etc. This will not stop the use of facial recognition databases, its ties to social media and law enforcement agencies; but by discussing about the issue openly, I hope it sheds light and encourages you to read more about this. Don't take my word for it, this blog was apart of my research; most of the information collected were facts but I've included my opinion at certain times as well. 

Hope you enjoyed this read! Be sure to stay tuned for the next blog on Monday, 9/17/18: Elevated Thoughts' Latest! I'll be including what I've been working on for the brand; new designs, new products as well! Also I'll be discussing the pricing changes on some products, why this was necessary and a breakdown of our pricing. Shit, I may even include a sneak peek at our next design(s)! Stay tuned and as always, stay elevated!

Peace and love,

Cesar Plascencia

Endnotes

https://www.forbes.com/sites/thomasbrewster/2018/04/16/huge-facebook-facial-recognition-database-built-by-ex-israeli-spies/#32ee6d837f18
https://splinternews.com/african-americans-are-more-likely-to-be-targeted-by-fac-1793862936
https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/mar/27/us-facial-recognition-database-fbi-drivers-licenses-passports
https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/10/snapchat-photos-dont-delete-saved-on-phone_n_3248567.html
https://www.facefirst.com/blog/brief-history-of-face-recognition-software/
https://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/01/us/nsa-collecting-millions-of-faces-from-web-images.html
https://www.thestreet.com/story/14536213/1/everyone-who-is-suing-facebook-for-cambridge-analytica.html
https://www.forbes.com/sites/kathleenchaykowski/2018/04/11/congressional-leaders-press-zuckerberg-on-political-bias-data-collection-at-facebook/#4b9e86471a95
https://www.eff.org/pages/face-recognition



Cesar Plascencia
Cesar Plascencia

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