Chinese law enforcement began testing sunglasses with built-in facial recognition technology a few years back. They hoped the technology would help them better identify criminals in public settings, thereby improving enforcement efforts. That same technology is raising concerns as the world battles the coronavirus pandemic.
China’s experiment worked so well that they expanded the facial recognition program throughout the country. Now we learn that both Chinese and Russian officials have turned to facial recognition in hopes of slowing down the spread of COVID-19 by tracking people suspected of carrying the virus.
Does this sound reasonable? Does this sound like freedom? Are there any concerns that law enforcement in this country would turn to facial recognition devices to identify people in public places? Yes, there are concerns. Whether or not the concerns are legitimate is a matter of debate.
More About Facial Recognition
Facial recognition is not something that scares most of us. We are familiar with it thanks to our smartphones and social media. But for those who don’t know, facial recognition is a technology capable of identifying people by measuring and analyzing certain facial features.
One example is the distance between the eyes. Sensors can measure that distance and then compare it to other facial features. By comparing things like eyes, nose, mouth and cheek bones, facial recognition software can correctly identify people.
In the case of the high-tech sunglasses worn by Chinese police officers, the sensors are a lot more advanced. Not only that, but the sunglasses have built-in displays so that officers can see the results of facial scans in real time. This is why some people are concerned. They believe the technology has advanced to a point that any right to privacy no longer exists.
Sensors All around Us
Facial recognition is but one technology being utilized by local police. According to Rock West Solutions, a California company that designs and builds sensors for law enforcement, such sensors are all around us. For instance, have you ever heard of gunshot warning systems?
Police in a number of U.S. cities rely on audio sensors deployed in strategic locations to ‘listen’ for gunfire. The sensors are advanced enough that they can pinpoint exactly where gunshots occur. Officers can be notified within seconds, reducing response times and potentially saving lives.
Red light cameras are another example of law enforcement sensors. They monitor heavily trafficked intersections and take pictures of every car traveling through. Cars caught running red lights are flagged for citation.
Trading Privacy for Security
Local police use a variety of sensors to do everything from catching red light runners to monitoring for gunshots. The TSA uses sensors to screen every passenger that gets on an airplane. Even entertainment venues like amusement parks and concert halls rely on sensors to prevent people from entering while carrying weapons.
So what do we make of it all? To those who are concerned about privacy, it comes down to whether or not we are willing to trade our privacy for security. It is a delicate question that engenders strong responses on both sides.
The reality of modern technology is that advanced sensors are making it ever easier for police officers to do their jobs. Along the way, they are gradually removing privacy from the equation. One can hardly leave the house these days without being monitored by some sort of sensor.
Russian and Chinese officials relying on facial recognition to help fight the spread of COVID-19 are not really doing anything unusual. The question is this: are we willing to give up all our privacy in exchange for perceived security?