Usually reserved for forensic dramas and sci-fi video games, facial recognition isn’t a new idea. But it’s not fiction, either. Society today has the technology to scan and recognize people by their faces. This can be discomforting news to anyone who values anonymity and privacy. If we want to be prepared for it, we need to understand it.
The big secret? It exists, but it’s not as good as it seems. For the last two decades, police departments and security companies have been trying to find a way for computers to identify individuals from a massive database.
Law enforcement in Tampa installed facial recognition cameras in 2001 in an effort to reduce crime. The project proved ineffective when they realized that most criminals wore hats, masks, or glasses that distorted their face enough to throw the software off.
Another example is with the Logan Airport of Boston. Over a three month period, the location ran two separate facial recognition tests. The results? Bad. According to the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the system only had a 61.4 percent accuracy rate, a number that any good lawyer could have disregarded in a court of law.
TV shows and movies show an exaggeration of what is actually possible. Maybe they do it to make for a more interesting story, maybe it’s to dissuade wannabe criminals. Regardless, the truth is less effective. If you’re wanting to keep your face off the grid, this isn’t an issue to worry about. If you’re still uneasy, wear some sunglasses or grow a beard.