Facial Recognition: Verifying That You Are Who You Say You Are

What is Facial Recognition?

Facial recognition is a form of biometrics, typically used for security purposes. Biometrics are distinct characteristics that identify a person as being the exact human they say they are. Common forms of biometrics include a person’s fingerprints, voice, eye, or facial pattern (what their face looks like). Biometrics are typically used grant access to high security systems, buildings, or anything else that only specific people are allowed to access. Facial recognition does as the name says, observes and identifies a face; however, identifying that a face is there is just the first step. Identification shows that there is in fact a face there raises the question “Who are you?” while the second step, Authentication verifies that you are in fact who you say you are.

To complete the authentication step, there must be information that people can use to compare the scanned face against. This can be either from a picture, video, a prior face scan on a facial recognition software, or anything where your face is clearly visible. The distinction from one person to another can sometimes be difficult, particularly for the human eye. Some primary areas that differentiate us from one another include the distance between our two eyes, the depth of the eye sockets, the distance from forehead to chin, facial shape such as the severity of the jaw or cheekbones, lips, and even ear placement. These are said to be the facial landmarks that are key to distinguishing your face as being uniquely you.

Real World Uses

When facial recognition first comes to mind, many of us still think of those movies from the 90s where the bad guy has to scan his face or his eye in order to access the secret room that’s storing whatever rare gem or item that the storyline is based on; however, this technology is not just reserved for top government officials or cheesy movie bad guys, it is in fact much more prevalent in our everyday lives than many of us realize. For Apple users with a newer generation of iPhone, one way to unlock your phone, log in to apps, and even make purchases is by facial scan. This form of facial recognition identifies you and verifies that you are in fact who you say you are by comparing your face to an initial scan that you can opt to create when you first set up your phone.

There are applications being explored by Amazon that would allow police officers to utilize facial recognition technology to identify missing persons who are in trouble or wanted people who are a threat to the public. This could potentially help police to identify these people they are trying to find even in the midst of a highly populated crowd. Because of issues last year and due to lack of Federal guidelines on the use of facial recognition, this technology has been suspended for the time being. Amazon’s intention is that the police forces could use this technology in the future, once there is some guidance on proper uses vs. improper ones.

British Airways‘ flights at Heathrow airport has a facial scan at the gates of their flights that helps to identify passengers who have bought a ticket. This can be used in lieu of a physical or digital boarding pass and the traveler can simply use their face as their way onto the plane! This could be a major benefit to a family traveling where keeping track of a bunch of boarding passes would be too complicated to handle while trying to wrangle all of the children. It could also be great for the minimalist traveler who likes to carry with him as little as possible.

Facebook uses this technology, not so much for security reasons, but for identifying individuals in photos. If you go out on a vacation with your friend and you two take a picture in front of the sea that you would love to share, upon uploading the image but not yet posting it to your social media, Facebook runs through your friends list and matches up the faces in the image and asks if you would like to tag. This is not always a perfect science and Facebook can even tell you to tag your mom or dad for your own face but it is seen my most as a way to make photo sharing easier. However, some find it to be an invasion of privacy — which is one of the potential threats we will get into below.

Potential Threats – Cyber & Beyond

As previously mentioned, not everybody is very happy or excited about facial recognition technology as it creeps further and further into our everyday lives. While biometric technology can help to make our lives easier or allow for better security, it is not perfect yet and some risks exist.

  • Permission & Privacy Because a person can be added to a database just by a picture or video of them, there is little-to-no discussion on if that person chooses to be included in this information. While having your iPhone scan your face to buy a new dress is your choice, things like the potential for police use of this technology, though it could help to save lives, is not something that you necessarily have a decision on if you will or will not be included in. This is why our governing leaders will need to look at legislation related to this closely so as not to infringe on any of our existing rights to privacy.
  • Security of the Database — As with any collection of information, the security of the database in which our faces are being used to verify our identities is highly important. If the database is easily hackable, malicious actors could breach said database and change the verification from Jim Smith is Jim Smith to now Jim Smith is Victor Villanova. They could change the purpose of the database, invalidating it and putting everyone included in there at risk.
  • Identity Fraud As with the last risk, it can be terrifying to think of a future where people could say you are not you and have what they believe to be proof to invalidate you. Not only is there the risk of the location where this information is stored being breached, but there is also the issue of someone essentially registering as you before you are able to do so. This would mean they steal your personal information and attribute it to being them, and then tie their face to your information. This is another major consideration when it comes to legislation surrounding facial recognition.

While this technology could change our lives in many ways for the better, security must be top priority in order to protect people from some very scary, very real risks.

Image by gstudioimagen for Freepik.