Facial Recognition an Ultimate Guide

Facial Recognition guide

Facial Recognition is perceived by many as a technology of the future; something straight out of science fiction that they don’t have to worry about at the moment.


Facial recognition is today’s technology and it is being used on the streets in your country right now.

It is not just the tool of surveillance states like Communist China. Facial recognition is already being deployed in the USA, the UK, and around the world, often without the knowledge of the people it is recording.

It is, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) have said,

“one of the most pervasive surveillance technologies.”

If this comes as a surprise to you, you are not alone.

Most people are unfamiliar with facial recognition technology, how it is used, and how it affects you. This lack of knowledge is one of the reasons why facial recognition poses such a significant threat to privacy. But there are many other reasons.

At VPNCompare.co.uk, we spend our time researching and writing about events and technology that help regular people protect their online privacy.

It has become increasingly apparent to us that facial recognition poses one of the most significant threats to individual privacy of recent times. It is also a topic we felt as uninformed about as many of you.

So, we decided to put that right and have undertaken an extensive research project to get to the bottom of what facial recognition technology is, how it is being used, and the threat it poses to our privacy.

The result is this mammoth guide which is one of the most comprehensive and accessible guides to facial recognition you will find.

Face recognition on a phone

Section 1: All about Facial recognition

What is Facial Recognition?

Facial recognition is a form of biometric identification. It works by analysing the patterns and facial contours of a person’s face.

It then compares these with an image that has previously been scanned and stored on a database and uses this information to verify the identity of a person.

Facial recognition is a wholly automated process that is already being employed in a wide variety of different ways.

How does Facial Recognition work?

There are several different ways that facial recognition technology can work. This will depend on what the technology is being used for, the scale of the process being used, and the devices being employed to run it.

But all facial recognition technology will have three main stages; detection, alignment, and recognition.

1. Detection

The first thing the technology must do is determine if there is a human face within its range. It must be able to detect facial features and also ignore anything else like buildings, plants, cars, and animals.

Facial detection was first invented as far back as 1973 by the Japanese computer scientist Takeo Kanade and there have been various iterations of the technology since.

In 2001, there was a huge breakthrough when Paul Viola and Michael Jones came up with the Viola and Jones object detection framework algorithm that was able to detect faces in real-time.

This works by analyzing the colour value of each pixel of an image and looking for contrasts between light and dark parts of the image which match the pattern of a face.

It was this step which allowed real-time facial recognition technology to move out of the realms of science fiction and into the real world.

2. Alignment

Initial attempts at alignment involved trying to mimic the way humans recognise people.

The facial image would be divided up into what was called nodal points (visible landmarks) and details like the depth of eye sockets, the width of the nose, and the distance between eyes would be measured.

But this approach proved unreliable because no two pictures of a face are the same and faces do shift and change.

They don’t remain the same as fingerprints and other biometric identification points do.

The solution was to instead create a 3D model of every face that is scanned.

This model can then be moved and warped to fit different images and so achieve a much higher success rate than 2D image comparisons could.

3. Recognition

This stage involves comparing the 3D facial model with known identities to find a match. In most facial recognition technologies, this is done by thresholding.

The technology generates a percentage match to all the images it holds and the highest percentage matches are then returned for human operators to consider.

Face coded and monitored

What is facial recognition technology used for?

There is an assumption among most people that facial recognition technology is only used in specific, extreme situations, such as during riots or when entering Swiss bank vaults.

Unfortunately, it is far more prevalent than you might think and used for all manner of mundane, everyday purposes.

As one facial recognition expert said to us,

“Facial recognition is now affordable and accessible enough to be used for just about anything.”

We have compiled a few of the most common uses of facial recognition technology to illustrate this point.

Unlocking your smartphone

Smartphones and tablets have been adding biometric technologies to unlock devices for some time now.

It began with fingerprint scanners but has now moved on to facial recognition.

Devices will request to scan your face when you first purchase a phone and the 3D model it creates will then be stored and compared with a live image of your face every time you use it.

All major smartphone manufacturers are using versions of facial recognition technology now.

Apple has a system called Face ID which uses an infrared camera, depth sensor, and dot projector and is considered robust enough to be able to authenticate online payments through their Apple Pay technology.

Samsung and Google have also created their own systems.

More worrying is the manufacturers from Communist China such as Huawei, Oppo, and Xiaomi, which are all following in Apple’s footsteps.

The big question for them, and all smartphone manufacturers, is who can access these facial maps and how secure is the data they store?

One think-tank staffer who has worked on smartphone regulation policy told us,

“Transparency about how smartphone operators use facial recognition data is almost non-existent.”

Identifying shoplifters

Shoplifting is a major problem for retailers large and small but it tends to be perpetrated by a small number of repeat offenders.

While some stores can afford security guards, they cannot stop every shoplifter and many stores do not have such a budget.

As a result, some are turning to facial recognition software as a solution.

The Guardian reported late last year on a corner shop in Buckinghamshire that has bought something known as FaceWatch. This system has a database of known offenders in the area and if it recognizes one entering the store, it alerts the owner.

Sounds great until you realise that it involves every single customer to that store having their face scanned to try and spot just a handful of shoplifters.

This example is in an individual corner shop. The systems used by national and international retailers are even more robust.

Targeted advertising

Targeted advertising is a vast and lucrative industry and tech companies and others are spending heavily to refine it and increase profits.

As well as companies like Google and Facebook scanning your online habits and using them to aim adverts at you, facial recognition is now also being used.

For example, US retailer Walgreens has installed facial recognition cameras in the doors of its drinks coolers. These can scan the faces of individual users and then change the advert on the door to a drink that user has a track record of buying.

This technology offers a chance for retailers to increase sales and also push products that maybe don’t usually sell so well.

The company behind this technology, Cooler Screens insists their data is anonymized. But studies have shown that anonymization of this type of information is pretty much impossible raising concerns over customer privacy.

It also creates the genuine prospect of smart-advertising targeting you practically anywhere.

Missing Persons

All sorts of people from every walk of life go missing every day.

Some are taken against their will while others intentionally decide to make a clear break from their former life.

Whatever the reason, a missing person causes enormous concern for the family and friends left behind and many will leave no stone unturned in an attempt to track down their loved one.

Now law enforcement agencies around the world are beginning to turn to facial recognition technology in an attempt to identify missing people.

Images of missing people are uploaded onto various databases in different countries and then compared with images from sources such as police records, help centres, homeless hostels, and more.

The approach is regularly used by police here in the UK.

It has also been used in countries like China and India to deal with their mounting problems with child trafficking and abductions.

Sports Events

Facial recognition is increasingly being used at major sporting events for many different reasons.

The most obvious of these is security, with police and stadium security increasingly relying on facial recognition to stop known troublemakers and hooligans from attending live sports events.

But this is far from its only use.

At the 2020 Olympics in Japan, facial recognition will be used to speed up security screening for more than 300,000 athletes and staff who will be attending. It is also increasingly being used for season ticket and pass holders to enter stadiums too.

Some US teams have deployed facial recognition to control who can and can’t enter locker rooms before and during a game. At the same time, VIP sections at major stadiums around the world have also begun using the technology to decide who to let in.

Then there is the marketing uses too.

US teams, in particular, have begun to use facial recognition to learn about their fans. They take super high-resolution images of the entire stadium several times throughout a match and use the pictures to tailor adverts and products at individual supporters.

School Security

School security is a significant issue everywhere but particularly in the US where anyone can get their hands on weapons and school shootings are a regular occurrence.

Various security approaches have been tried over the years from professional security guards to metal detectors but all have enjoyed limited success.

The newest technology to begin to be tested is facial recognition.

A number of schools in the USA have already deployed facial recognition to monitor who can and can’t enter school sites. The systems are designed to recognise people who are not permitted to enter school sites and warn security about their presence.

Their use has sparked a major debate on the ethics of surveilling young people in this way.

Parents at one school in Lockport, New York, have already made waves in the media by protesting against the use of facial recognition in their school. Many others share their concerns.

Casino Security

Casinos have always resorted to cutting edge security measures to keep them safe from both robbers and con-artists who think they can beat the house.

Casino chains keep a record of cheats and criminals that are barred from gambling with them.

They are now increasingly using facial recognition technology that is built into their security cameras to monitor players and ensure no-one is playing that shouldn’t be.

Casinos have actually been using facial recognition technology since the 1990s and if you ever go to a casino anywhere, it is safe to assume that your facial details have been mapped and stored.

The practice has already led to several lawsuits from disgruntled gamblers in the USA and the prospect of new laws to govern the use of facial recognition in casinos, including an opt-in for players, has already been seriously considered by lawmakers.


Earlier this year, a bank in Communist China became the first in the world to introduce facial recognition technology in ATMs.

CaixaBank now allows customers to withdraw cash from certain machines without having to enter a PIN number.

The bank holds a 3D map of each customer’s face and the new ATMs are equipped with a camera capable of scanning a user and comparing it with this database.

The ATM can validate up to 16,000 different points on a user’s face which CaixaBank claims offers a high level of security. They are certainly confident enough to allow these users to withdraw cash without any other identification.

Users in Communist China, which is already a dystopian surveillance state, might find such technology very run of the mill.

Banks elsewhere in the world have not exactly leapt on the idea (with a handful of exceptions such as technologically advanced Taiwan and Thailand) suggesting that in other countries, people are likely to be far more reluctant to allow facial recognition to control access to their money for the time being at least.

As one policy expert commented to us, “The prospect of linking facial recognition with financial services could create no end of problems. There is no evidence the public wants it either, but it is still likely to be forced upon us.”

Driving Offences

One of the first and perhaps most recognized uses of facial recognition has been for driving offences.

We are all fairly used to the idea of CCTV cameras monitoring roads and intersections. Even Automatic Number Plate Recognition is now a standard feature in speed traps and even to enter and exit car parks.

But CCTV cameras on roads are now also increasingly equipped with facial recognition technology too.

This is in part to prevent people from being able to get off charges by claiming they were not at the wheel at the time. But it is also used to identify people who are breaking the law by using their smartphone, sleepy at the wheel or even drinking and driving.

This technology is now widespread but has been used to its extreme in Communist China where numerous drivers have been punished on the basis of facial recognition technology and one driver even faced a fine for scratching his face while driving.

It should be stressed that this is far from an exhaustive list but merely a snapshot of the sort of things facial recognition is routinely being used for right now.

Face scanning

Where is Facial Recognition being used right now?

There was a time when this section would have been relatively modest and we would have been talking about potential future uses for facial recognition technology.

But as we have already touched on, it is already being used in developed and developing countries all over the world right now.

If we tried to outline every example of where facial recognition has been used around the world, we would be here till next Christmas and end up with an article so long Tolstoy would have looked at it enviously.

Instead, we are going to outline a handful of high-profile examples from different places around the world, where facial recognition technology is already being used daily:

The United Kingdom

Metropolitan Police tests

The Metropolitan Police has been trialing the use of facial recognition technology since August 2016.

As well as routine trials on the high street it has also been used at events such as the Notting Hill Carnival and the Remembrance Day celebrations on Whitehall.

These trials took place with the full support of the Home Office but with almost no regulation in place to govern how they operate and how they use the data they collect.

To date, the Met has refused to comment publicly on the effectiveness of its facial recognition tests. But a 128-page independent study carried out by The Human Rights, Big Data, and Technology Project (consisting of experts from the University of Essex and the Economic and Social Research Council) was damning in its findings.

They have a 98% inaccuracy rating so far.

Big Brother Watch found an equally damning 93% misidentification rate in its research and at the 2017 Notting Hill Carnival, 95 people were misidentified.

Their trials have resulted in at least one controversy after a man was fined £90 for covering his face from the cameras. The incident took place in full view of civil liberties protestors who defended the man but the fine was issued, nonetheless.

Despite all this, the Metropolitan Police has just rolled out the use of facial recognition cameras on an operational basis with Stratford being the first place subjected to it.

Signs were posted informing people of its use and it was made clear that “there is no legal requirement for you to pass through the LFR system”.

But as Big Brother Watch Director Silkie Carlo said, “If we let this slide, this is going to be the beginning of something much worse. If they are successful in rolling this out and the legal challenges don’t work we will see this on CCTV networks pretty soon.”

South Wales Police

Police in South Wales have been trialing facial recognition technology since 2015. They are one of three British police forces to use the technology along with Leicestershire and the Met.

To date, South Wales police have deployed the technology at a number of major sporting events, music concerts, and festivals in the region. It has also been used in busy public areas at peak times, such as in town centres during Christmas shopping times.

More than £2.6 million has been spent so far even though the results have been “almost entirely inaccurate” with a 91% inaccuracy rate.

Even worse, they are storing images of innocent people incorrectly identified by the technology for a year without their knowledge. 2,451 people are believed to have been affected so far according to Big Brother Watch.

This last example led to the use of facial recognition technology by South Wales police being challenged in the courts.

Ed Bridges, a Lib Dem councilor took the force to court arguing that his right to privacy was breached when he was photographed by the police while Christmas shopping in Cardiff last year.

He also argued that the use of facial recognition was in breach of data protection and equality laws.

The court ruled against Mr. Bridges and refused the judicial review on all grounds. The human rights group Liberty, which brought the case on behalf of Mr. Bridges, has vowed to appeal the ruling.

Tory MP David Davis highlighted the key flaw in the ruling.

He wrote “The court made constant comparisons between facial recognition and the police’s use of fingerprints and DNA. But they are entirely different. Officers take fingerprints or DNA samples when they have a reasonable suspicion of a crime. They do not put a DNA or fingerprint scanner on the roadside and collect our data en-masse.”

Kings Cross

Perhaps the most controversial UK example of the use of facial recognition has been at the new Kings Cross Central development in central London.

This is a private development but in August 2019, the owner of the 67-acre, 50-building site announced that it had been using facial recognition on the site since 2016 and planned to expand this across the whole site.

The announcement made them one of the first private sector companies to confirm they were using facial recognition technology.

There was a huge public backlash at the announcement and the Information Commissioner’s Office in the UK announced plans to investigate.

A media storm erupted which resulted in a climbdown and at the start of September, the owners confirmed that the technology had been switched off.

In a statement, the humbled developer confirmed that it had “no plans to reintroduce any form of facial recognition technology at the King’s Cross Estate”.

That wasn’t the end of the controversy either because at the start of October 2019, the Metropolitan Police confirmed that it had handed over images of seven people to the company behind Kings Cross Central to use with their facial recognition system.

This followed a deal between the developers and the Met which had been struck in secret. They apologized for this agreement but it immediately began to raise questions about which other private companies the Met might be willing to share facial recognition data with.

These questions remain unanswered.

Kings Cross Central is far from the only private location in the UK where this technology is being used. Campaign group Big Brother Watch has highlighted the “facial recognition epidemic” that is sweeping the UK.

They have found examples of major property developers, shopping centres, museums, conference centres and casinos all using the technology in the UK.

Big Brother Watch’s Silkie Carlo explained why this was so dangerous noting, “The collusion between police and private companies in building these surveillance nets around popular spaces is deeply disturbing. Facial recognition is the perfect tool of oppression and the widespread use we’ve found indicates we’re facing a privacy emergency.”



If you travel in and out of just about any American airport, you will find that along with being searched and having your passport checked, you will also go through a machine which scans your face.

These scans are then sent to the CBP’s Traveler Verification Service which checks the image against one of you they already have on file (from your passport or visa).

This technology began to be introduced shortly after 9/11 when a commission recommended the full implementation of biometric entry-exit scanning.

Facial recognition was the technology chosen and eventually it is expected to replace manual passport checks altogether.

All major US airlines, with the exception of Southwest, are complying with the new scheme.

People can opt-out of facial recognition at the airport but they cannot stop their photo being added to the CBS database. They insist that the process is secure and all images taken at airports are deleted after twelve hours unless they are needed.

One of the many concerns that have been raised by privacy advocates is how these images could be used by government agencies as more of them take up facial recognition in the years ahead.

The American Civil Liberties Union has described the government’s plans as “a nightmare vision” of the future.


On June 28th 2018, a man walked into the office of The Capital newspaper in Annapolis and opened fire, killing five people.

Police were unable to identify the gunman from fingerprints so instead sent a picture of their suspect to the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center.

They hold a database of three million state mug shots and seven million driver’s license photos. They can also access an estimated 24.9 million mug shots from the FBI database.

Use of this database is supposed to be regulated by what Georgetown University’s Center on Privacy & Technology has described as some of the most aggressive policies in the country.

The technology was also alleged to have been used by Baltimore Police to identify people who took part in the anti-police protests that followed the death of Freddie Grey in police custody.

This resulted in a civil rights investigation against the force and a promise from Baltimore’s Mayor to investigate police practices.


Earlier this year, campaign group the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) published a briefing into what we know about the FBI’s use of facial recognition.

The ACLU claimed that the FBI facial recognition database contained no fewer than 640 million images. They said this put them well on the way to their objective of holding a picture of everyone in the USA.

The FBI claims that its use of this data is tightly controlled but the ACLU has revealed that guidelines require no fact-based suspicion to be needed before the database is used. In other words, the FBI can run a facial recognition check with no warrant and no evidence.

The FBI use of facial recognition is likely to be in breach of their constitutional obligations, but they are unable to either confirm or deny this.

They also have no evidence or data to back up their claims that the database helps them to fight criminals and solve cases.

Lastly, the FBI refused to confirm which private companies it works with on its FBI technology. This raises the chilling prospect of them sharing this data with these companies without any congressional oversight.

The ACLU is one of 60 different groups campaigning against the FBI’s unrestricted use of facial recognition but to date, their efforts have had little effect.

Communist China

Stealing toilet paper

In 2015, the leader of the Chinese Communist Party, Xi Jinping announced ‘the toilet revolution’; a policy to clean up China’s infamously dirty and ill-equipped public toilets.

The policy led to a huge investment in public toilets and, in true Chinese fashion, the deployment of high-tech solutions to everyday problems. One such issue was people using (or stealing) excessive amounts of toilet paper.

In Communist China’s surveillance state, the obvious solution to this was facial recognition technology.

In 2017, a toilet in Beijing’s Temple of Heaven Park was the first to get the new technology. When you need to go, you must stand on the yellow mark and put your face close to the machine. Three seconds later, exactly 90 cm of toilet paper will be dispensed. No more, no less.

You then also have a set amount of time to use the facility before an alarm goes off. The technology has now been rolled out in hundreds more public toilet across the country. In China, facial recognition appears to be the future of going to the loo.

Access the internet

There are 854 million internet users in China, all of whom have to put up with what is already the most intrusive online surveillance and censorship regimes on earth. But things have just got even worse.

From the start of December 2019, anyone in China who wants to sign up for a new internet service or a mobile phone contract is required to have their faces scanned by their telecoms provider.

The move is part of the regime’s efforts to monitor the online activity of all Chinese citizens. It will ensure that the people applying for services are the same as those pictured in the ID cards provided and is also intended to stop people from acting anonymously online.

Other countries have also begun to follow China’s lead such as in the deep south of Thailand where the military junta has issued orders for anyone registering a SIM card to have their photo taken and stored.

Visiting a safari park

The use of facial recognition is not subject to any control in China and as a result, it has been rolled out extensively. While there has been some murmuring of dissent online, there has been very little public opposition to this.

An exception to this is Hangzhou Safari Park which recently made facial scans mandatory for all visitors.

This policy has since been challenged in the courts by Guo Bing, a law professor at the Zhejiang Sci-Tech University in eastern China. He argues that the policy is “violating consumer protection law by compulsorily collecting visitors’ individual characteristics.”

The case was accepted and is still ongoing but few experts think Professor Guo has any real chance of success.

Dr Mimi Zou, a Fangda Career Development Fellow in Chinese Commercial Law at the University of Oxford told the BBC “there is not a legally binding instrument that deals directly” with his claim which means his demand for consent for facial recognition is essentially meaningless under Chinese law.

School attendance and behavior

There have been several reports of educational institutions in China using facial recognition technology to monitor students.

At a high school in Hangzhou, facial monitoring devices were reportedly used in classrooms to give teachers real-time feedback on student concentration levels. If they looked away from the front of the class or their heads began to drop, the teachers would know.

In another case, facial recognition technology was introduced at China Pharmaceutical University (CPU) in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province at school gates and in dormitories to monitor student attendance levels.

The Chinese Education Ministry did indicate that they would be introducing regulations on how this technology could be used in schools and universities after these uses were questioned.

But to date, no such regulations have been introduced.

Uighur repression

China’s holocaust of Uighur Muslims has been widely reported.

Part of their systematic repression of the Uighur people has involved turning the East Turkestan / Xinjiang region into a real-life Orwellian surveillance state.

The Communist regime is always reluctant to reveal the true extent of its oppression of the Uighurs but it is currently implementing advanced facial recognition technology in its enormous network of surveillance cameras across the province.

This network is unashamedly used to allow Communist Party officials to racial profile people not just in East Turkestan but across China.

It is estimated that at least 500,000 facial scans a month are carried out in China to identify whether a person is of Uighur heritage or not.

Hong Kong

The ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong have generated headlines around the world and caused a major headache for China’s Communist regime.

Police brutality against protestors has been shocking at times but mindless violence is not the only tool they have at their disposal. It is believed they also have access to facial recognition technology from an Australian company called iOmniscient.

This technology is able to help them pick out individuals from a crowd and match them to records on their databases.

In the early stages of the protests, the sudden arrest of a number of high-profile protestors away from the marches appeared to offer evidence that this technology was being used to try and stifle the protests.

Protestors now routinely wear masks and other facial covers to avoid detection in this way and this has, in turn, led to the Hong Kong government seeking to ban people wearing masks in public.

That law is pretty much confirmation that they are using facial recognition technology to try and crackdown on protestors.


An alternative to policing

India is currently in the process of taking bids from companies to create the country’s first centralised facial recognition surveillance system.

The scheme appears to be seen as an alternative to bolstering numbers in India’s severely under-resourced police service.

The country’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) said the scheme was intended to modernize the police in India, improve criminal identification, and verification of individual identities.

Inevitably, the scheme has led to concerns over police surveillance and how the data gathered by the project will be used. Few answers have been offered to these issues at the time of writing.

Missing Children

This is not the first time facial recognition has been used in India. In a trial in New Delhi, authorities used facial recognition on almost 45,000 children across the city.

The result was that they identified almost 3,000 missing children in less than four days.

Missing children is a major problem in India with an estimated 200,000 children thought to be missing across the country.


Cellphone owners

In the so-called ‘Deep South’ of Thailand where many of the countries insurgents are based, you now have to submit to having your photograph taken every time you buy a SIM card.

Around a million people have also been forced to register existing SIM cards in the region. If they refused to comply, their service was disconnected.

The pictures are being collected by the country’s three leading mobile providers and at least one of them is known to be storing them all in a large database.

“That is too much and a breach of privacy rights.”

Explained Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, director of the Cross Cultural Foundation, a Bangkok-based NGO.

Sutawan Chanprasert from Digital Reach, another Thai NGO explained that while this isn’t currently facial recognition in the way we are seeing it used elsewhere, the likelihood is that similar technology will be deployed the moment another insurgency attack takes place in Thailand.


A number of banks in Thailand have also begun using a digital authentication system known as electronic know-your-customer (e-KYC).

The technology is a form of biometric identification that uses facial recognition as a tool to verify your identity when conducting banking transactions.

Banks update customer information using ID card readers that are available at branches. They then take customers’ photos and send all the data to headquarters for authentication via facial recognition technology.

The system is not yet mandatory but those that don’t use it have to visit branches and sign documents by hand to conduct many transactions. Banks can also use the technology to sell products and services to customers.


In the latest use of facial recognition technology, Russian authorities have been monitoring citizens returning from China to ensure they are complying with 14-day quarantine regulations in relation to the outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Rest of the World

These examples are just a snapshot of how facial recognition is already being used around the world.

There are hundreds of other examples we could have used here from countries such as Armenia, Ecuador, Germany, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Rwanda, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Whether a country is developed, developing, or still undeveloped, it seems that facial recognition is now within reach and already being actively deployed.

Facial recognition is no longer a technology of the future; it is already being used all around us.

Phone with face and money

Section 2: Facial Recognition – Pros and Cons

Facial recognition is undeniably already here but that doesn’t mean its use has become any less controversial.

Arguments about how ethical its use is and when and how it should be deployed continue to rage in almost every country where facial recognition technology is being used.

In this section, we are going to look in a little more detail at the arguments that have been used for and against the use of facial recognition technology around the world and unpack the details of the pros and cons of facial recognition.

Facial Recognition – The Positives

Finding missing people

When someone goes missing, the pain felt by those loved ones left behind, who don’t know what has happened to them is indescribable. There is no denying that facial recognition offers a way to track down missing people.

When a person goes missing of their own volition they will invariably head to an urban area where it is easier to be anonymous. But it is in busy cities where facial recognition technology is being deployed.

If a CCTV system with facial recognition technology working on it has details of a missing person and spots a likely match in a crowded street, it can automatically alert authorities and even if that person cannot be tracked down, their families can have the comfort of knowing that at least they are alive.

The effectiveness of this system can be best illustrated by the example of searching for missing children in India from the previous section.

In New Delhi, almost 3,000 missing children were identified in less than four days. There is no denying this is a hugely impressive statistic.

Increased security in vulnerable places

It is no coincidence that trials of facial recognition tend to take place in vulnerable places such as busy high streets, sports stadiums, stations and airports.

These places are all vulnerable to criminals of all kinds, from terrorists to pickpockets and everything in between. Facial recognition offers law enforcement officers the possibility of knowing in advance if a perceived threat is present in one of these areas.

The technology doesn’t guarantee that a crime won’t be committed but it does claim to enhance significantly the opportunities law enforcement officers have of preventing security incidents before they take place.

Of course, the meager accuracy rates of almost all facial recognition systems mean this claim is highly questionable in practice.

Pre-emptively catching criminals

In the long-term, this use of facial recognition has the potential to be expanded.

As well as spotting security threats, it could be possible for law enforcement officers to identify any known offender and use other data in tandem with facial recognition to predict whether they are likely to offend and take pre-emptive action to stop them.

Again, accuracy rates mean this use is up for debate.

Faster security checks

The use of facial recognition as an identity verification tool has the potential to speed up security checks at places like airports and stadiums.

Instead of having to queue up to have a border guard check that you look like the photo in your passport, facial scanners will be able to compare your features to their files and make sure the travel documents you are using match.

This process would be entirely automated and significantly quicker than manual methods.

Industrial and economic benefits

Facial recognition technology is already big business but there is no doubt that companies involved hope it will grow even more.

This is also attractive to governments and regions who see the prospect of a new boom industry setting up in their backyard and all the skilled jobs and economic benefits that will bring with it.

For those companies and countries that manage to jump on the facial recognition bandwagon earlier enough, the economic benefits promise to be immense.

“It is the profit margins rather than the evidence that is really driving the development of facial recognition technology,” as one think-tank staffer succinctly put it to us.

Facial Recognition – The Negatives


The main criticism of facial recognition technology is the manner in which it invades the privacy of innocent people and gives them no means to opt out of being part of the system.

Some governments have acknowledged this.

Baroness Williams, the UK’s Home Office Minister responsible for Facial Recognition technology told the Science and Technology Select Committee that “there is a line between maintaining privacy and maintaining public protection” and the Government “need to be absolutely clear about why they are collecting [images] and for what purpose”.

But at present, this is demonstrably not the case.

Facial recognition only works by having data available on everyone. If it is going to provide matches, it needs to have access to databases with as many images of people as possible.

Often these images are taken without a person’s knowledge.

If you walk through a shopping centre or on a street where facial recognition technology is being used, your image is being captured whether you like it or not.

In some countries there are rules about how long these images can be kept on file but in many there are no such rules and pictures of you will be retained indefinitely.

In the USA, a recent court case in Illinois saw a first US court ruling that the use of facial recognition technology without consent constituted a breach of an individual’s rights to privacy.

The case in question was brought against Facebook, which uses facial recognition to tag individuals in pictures posted on the site. But the ruling has much broader implications.

Sometimes people are informed that facial recognition technology is being used but have little choice but to comply. For example, if you want to attend a sporting event or concert where it is being used your choice is to submit to facial recognition or not attend the event.

If you don’t want your image being taken at an airport where the technology is being used, your only option is to choose not to fly. In the more extreme cases in China, you can only avoid facial recognition by not using the toilet or attending school at all.

Most people would be reasonably comfortable with facial recognition if they believed there were adequate regulations and safeguards in place to ensure it is used proportionately and that their image was not being stored forever on some giant and vulnerable state-controlled database.

But no country in the world currently has entirely adequate safeguards and regulations and the differences between countries and states are enormous.

Data Security

Facial recognition technology is built on data but what happens if that data is compromised?

Like fingerprints and retina scans, people can’t just go out and get a new face. If their facial data falls into the wrong hands and can be used for malicious purposes, they can’t get a second chance.

How data is used, stored, and shared is one of the largest single privacy concerns over facial recognition.

Even in Communist China, where showing any form of opposition to government policy at all can lead to lengthy prison sentences or worse, there are concerns.

A recent (and rare) survey of public opinion in China found that 79% of people are afraid of facial data leaks.

That is a huge majority in a totalitarian state where people are generally afraid to voice their concerns.

As one expert put it, “With no regulation over data security in this area, it is not a question of if this private data gets into the public domain, but when. The consequences of such a leak when it happens doesn’t bear thinking about.”

Racial discrimination

One of the highest profile issues with facial recognition besides privacy issues is the problems that even the best technology has recognising faces of black people and other ethnic minorities.

An example of this comes from a National Institute of Standards and Technology test of the most recent facial recognition technology produced by French company Idemia.

It found that the technology made a false match of white women on average once in every 10,000 searches. For black women, the figure was one in every 1,000.

Another example is a recent test of Amazon’s facial recognition software ‘Rekognition’ by the American Civil Liberties Union found that it falsely identified no fewer than 28 members of Congress as known criminals.

These false matches were disproportionately of people of colour, including six members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Almost 40% of those misidentified were black, despite only 20% of Congress being from ethnic minorities.

Other tests on at least 50 different companies’ technology has found similar differences in the margins of error for checks on black and white people. Tests on people with darker skin tones also generally tend to take longer than those with lighter skin.

This is a hugely sensitive issue, especially if law enforcement agencies intend to increase reliance on this type of technology moving forward.

Law enforcement in countries around the world is already perceived as being discriminatory against ethnic minorities. Facial recognition technology appears likely to exacerbate this issue still further.

Inaccurate results

There is also plenty of evidence that suggests it is not just people with darker skin that facial recognition makes mistakes with. There are plenty of studies which indicate it has been riddled with errors ever since testing began.

This can be hard to substantiate as a lot of companies and law enforcement agencies are reluctant to release statistics on how reliable the technology is. This itself raises suspicions.

But there is some data out there and a lot of it makes for grim reading.

For example, the Met Police in London has released data from its tests between 2016 and 2018. This revealed that in eight trials they achieved a 96% rate of false positives. In other words, the technology wrongly identified someone in 96% of the results it returned.

This is an incredibly poor level of results and is difficult to justify at any level.

Campaign group Big Brother Watch rightly described the results as “staggeringly inaccurate.”

Another assessment of the Met Police data over ten trials found a slightly better but still huge 82% of results were inaccurate.

Lack of safeguards

Because facial recognition technology has rather crept up on us, it has managed to manifest itself in many different aspects of people’s lives without sufficient safeguards being put in place to protect people’s privacy and deter law enforcement officers from abusing its use.

In most countries, surveillance technology such as this is only able to be used if the police secure a warrant or some kind of independent judicial approval. We are not aware of any countries where there is such a requirement in place for facial recognition to be used.

Then there is the sensitive issue of what happens to images and other data captured by facial recognition cameras.

Again, in most countries there are limits on how long such data can be stored for. But while some law enforcement agencies state that the data is only retained for a few hours or days, such a move is usually voluntary and there is little regulation to prevent them keeping such images for longer.

In the UK, the Home Office recently confirmed in an evidence session with the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee that images collected and watch lists for specific events are subsequently deleted unless there is a match.

The European Union has recently suggested it plans to introduce “strict new regulation” to combat the indiscriminate use of facial recognition technology across the block.

But these regulations will potentially take years to come into force and there is currently little evidence of other countries following their lead, despite some calls for a proper legal framework to be introduced here in the UK.

Although new reports suggest that the EU is also planning on harnessing the power of facial recognition creating a “pan-European network of facial recognition databases”.

Deepfake technology

Earlier this year a Chinese app called Zao hit the headlines around the world after it enabled users to take photographs of themselves and insert them onto images of their favourite movie actor or pop star.

The problem with this so-called Deepfake technology was that it was so convincing that companies like Alibaba, which use facial recognition as part of their payment system were forced to deny that it could be used to hoodwink their system.

The denials haven’t held back public concerns.

65% of respondents to a Chinese survey admitted they were worried about deepfakes.

Their denials were far from convincing. What is beyond doubt is that Deepfake technology such as Zao has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years and clearly poses a genuine risk to the security and reliability of facial recognition technology.

Earlier this year, the BBC broadcast a crime drama called The Capture.

The premise of the show centred around a government department that created fake CCTV footage that could be used in evidence against people they knew were criminals but had no evidence that was admissible in a court of law.

The Capture was a work of fiction, as far as we know, but science fiction begets science fact and if Deepfake apps like Zao teach us anything, it should be that even if scenarios like those shown in The Capture are not currently possible, it is undoubtedly only a matter of time.

Clearview AI

Earlier this year we reported on a company called Clearview AI which has taken facial recognition technology over the moral event horizon and into new and unchartered territory.

Their technology has scrapped millions of photos from social media and other public sources and stored these in a database. It is then able to take photos from security cameras and other sources and run them through this database to find likely matches.

Clearview AI involves the largest database of its type in the world and is already being used by law enforcement bodies in the USA to solve crimes.

This client database was recently breached leading many to question the security of such systems.

Back in 2011, the Chairman of Google described using facial recognition technology in this way as dangerous and claimed it could be used “in a very bad way.”

Eric Goldman, co-director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University went even further, stating that “The weaponization possibilities of this are endless. Imagine a rogue law enforcement officer who wants to stalk potential romantic partners, or a foreign government using this to dig up secrets about people to blackmail them or throw them in jail.”

Clearview AI is a reality today. But it also illustrates the long-term dangers of where facial recognition could go if we allow it to be normalised in our society in its current form.

Risk of abuse

We have already touched on the fact that a lack of adequate regulation around the use of facial recognition technology means the risk of abuse by law enforcement agencies and government bodies is a serious one.

With adequate safeguards and regulations in place, it is likely that few people would object facial recognition technology being used to catch serious and repeat offenders or to help identify missing people.

But law enforcement agencies tend to be like kids with a new toy when a piece of modern technology comes along. They want to use it for everything.

The prospect of facial recognition cameras popping up everywhere and being used to penalise people for crimes like littering or dog fouling is a genuine concern.

Just one classic example of misuse of facial recognition misuse has been highlighted by Clare Garvie of the Georgetown University Centre on Privacy and Technology. She highlighted a case from New York in 2017 when CCTV in a CVS store caught a man stealing beer.

It got a good clear image of the man so the NYPD submitted the image to their police departments Facial Identification Section (FIS). It returned no results but one of the detectives running the check noted that the man bore a resemblance to Hollywood actor Woody Harrelson.

So instead, he ran a high-definition image of Harrelson through the system. That image did show up a match and detectives then pursued this lead despite it having no direct link to the evidence from the crime scene.

This example is relatively minor.

If you really want to know about misuse, take a look at some of our earlier case studies from Communist China, where authorities can do what they want without any fear of opposition of consequences.

This far-fetched reality is already being played out there and it would be naïve to think we couldn’t possibly go down the same route.


Despite people generally being in support of technologies which keep them safer, the public appears to be overwhelmingly against the use of facial recognition technology.

Earlier this year, the Ada Lovelace Foundation carried out the first ever survey of public opinions on facial recognition technology in the UK. Its findings were stark.

The survey of 4,109 adults found that 55% of them felt there should be government restrictions on police use of facial recognition technology.

Nearly half of people (46%) wanted the right to opt-out of the technology. For people from ethnic minorities, this figure rose to 56%.

77% of respondents were unhappy with the idea of shops using facial recognition to track customers.

67% opposed its use in schools while 61% objected to it being used on public transport. Fewer than half of those asked (49%) supported the use of facial recognition technology in everyday policing even if the appropriate safeguards were put in place.

This is just one survey but it was a large sample size and the message it sent back was clear.

People in the UK at least, don’t support the use of facial recognition technology.

Women's face being scanned

Section 3: Facial Recognition – What can you do about it?

If you find the uncontrolled use of facial recognition technology worrying, you might be wondering what you can do to stop your images being sucked into the system and stored on giant state-controlled databases.

At this point, we would love to provide you with a comprehensive and detailed guide on a failsafe way to protect yourself from facial recognition.

Unfortunately, with the law as it stands in the UK, and in every country around the world, this is not possible. But there are a few things you can do minimise the risk of being subjected to facial recognition technology.

Using face shields

How to protect yourself from facial recognition technology


A fundamental step you can take is to make it your business to be aware of places in your area where facial recognition technology might be being used.

In the UK, police will usually post about trials on their websites and social media accounts and signs should be up in public areas to tell people. This gives you the option to avoid an area if you so wish.

Likewise, if the technology is being used at a big event like a concert or football match, there should be signs and announcements informing you of the fact.

This is not the case in every country though, so it is worth exploring how you can discover where and when it is being used where you are.

Privacy visors / masks

If fashion is not your number one priority, then you could opt to wear a mask or visor to prevent facial recognition cameras from being able to take a picture of you.

There are a few enterprising companies that have developed visors specifically for this purpose, such as the Japanese company Nissey Corp.

You don’t have to use something explicitly developed for the purpose. Any mask or balaclava will suffice.

In Hong Kong, protestors who want to evade detection have been wearing all sorts of masks with images of cartoon characters, superheroes, and even Chinese dictator Xi Jinping.

If you choose to use a visor or mask, do be aware that law enforcement agents could stop you as a result.

The case in London where a man was fined for hiding his face risks setting a precedent and has not been overturned in the courts yet.

In Hong Kong, there is now a ban on wearing face coverings in public places, although this hasn’t stopped many protestors from doing so.

However, latest reports suggest that even with partial face coverings, identities can still be discovered.

Think about what images you put online

Most of us are pretty free and easy with what pictures of ourselves we put online but it is worth thinking about how these images might be used.

These images are in the public domain and can therefore be used by anyone, including governments.

Sometimes they will be ideal for facial recognition verification purposes. Regulations about how governments are permitted to use such data are pretty much non-existent everywhere.

Most official facial recognition technology uses images from official government databases to make comparisons.

Often these are mugshots which have been taken when a person is arrested or convicted of an offence. But you also hand over an image of yourself whenever you apply for a passport or driving license too.

How these images are used will vary from one country to another but it would be naïve to think government’s don’t share such data between departments.

Use Faceshield

You probably haven’t heard of Faceshield but if you are worried about facial recognition, it is a handy bit of kit.

Faceshield is an intelligent tool which prevents facial recognition software from being applied to photos you post online. It works a bit like an Instagram filter and adds noise to specific regions of your face such as eyes, nose or jawline.

To the naked eye, there is no noticeable difference to the picture, but this noise prevents facial recognition software from noticing there is a face in the image.

Switch Facial recognition off on your software/devices

If you buy a mobile device or piece of software that has the option to use facial recognition as a verification tool, don’t use it.

A lot of smartphones and tablets are introducing the technology and selling it as a quick, simple, and secure way to unlock your device. But no device has yet made the technology mandatory.

It is usually quite simple to switch off facial recognition in the settings and use a passcode or an alternative form of verification instead.

If you don’t allow the device to scan your face, you are not giving an image of yourself over to the Apple, Samsung, or whoever the manufacturer is.

Change your appearance

Perhaps the most extreme step you can take is to consciously try and change your appearance to fool facial recognition cameras.

This is not an exact science and there are no guarantees of success. But by wearing glasses, make-up, contact lenses, piercings, tattoos, and hats, it is possible to change the appearance of your facial features enough to fool a facial recognition camera.

Websites like CV Dazzle are exploring how make-up and fashion styles can be used as camouflage against face recognition.

As we have already noted, this technology has far from a 100% success rate as it is.

Man not talking with his ID

What to do if you are stopped or arrested on the basis of facial recognition technology?

While the rules around police use of facial recognition technology is still vague, in the UK, campaign group NetPol (The Network for Police Monitoring) has released advice for anyone who is stopped by the police during a trial of facial recognition technology.

This is sound advice and worth repeating here.

If you are not in the UK, you will need to check the legal situation in your own country and search online for any legal advice that might have been made publicly available.

Can the police demand you uncover your face?

No. The circumstances where a police officer can demand that a person uncover their face in the UK are minimal and can only be used in situations where police feel there is an immediate risk of violence.

Even in these situations, a senior officer must have authorised the power to remove face coverings under Section 60AA of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

If this authorisation has been given, a police officer can compel you to remove any item that they reasonably believe you are “wearing wholly or mainly for the purpose of concealing your identity.” They can also confiscate your mask or face covering.

If police have been authorised to stop and search people under section 60, a section 60AA authorisation is also deemed to have been given.

If you are wondering why the individual in London was handed a fine for refusing to uncover his face during a trial, the best guess is that he was fined under section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 as a result of swearing at the police officer who stopped him.

What can you do if you are stopped as a suspect?

The unreliability of facial recognition technology means that even if you are innocent of any crime and not listed as a missing person, there is still a chance that the technology could throw up a false positive and as a result, you could be stopped by the police.

If you are unfortunate enough to find yourself in this situation, you should be aware that the police have no powers to detain you unless they are stopping and searching you under a section 60 notice or they are arresting you for a specific crime.

Police also have no powers to compel you to hand over personal information to them although if they have authorisation to search you they can look for identification in your wallet or handbag.

If you are unable or unwilling to identify yourself, they may then decide to detain you further while they seek to identify you. If you are arrested, you are likely to be taken to a police station or custody suite and your photo will be taken there.

That image will likely be retained and the law is not yet clear on whether this is lawful or not.

If you are subsequently cleared of any offence, it is worth contacting the police to request the image be removed.

Lobby your politicians

If you are really concerned about the spread of facial recognition technology, it is important to make sure your politicians are aware of the issue and understand your perspective.

Reach out to them in writing or attend one of their surgeries or public meetings and raise the issue with them. There are no shortage of politicians from all parties who already share your concerns. If enough public pressure is put on them, they will respond.

There is already some evidence of political action being taken:

U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform – this influential bipartisan US Committee has already suggested that it plans to take steps to legislate on the issue of facial recognition.

There is even some talk that it may seek to ban the technology unless appropriate safeguards can be put in place. The Committee has expressed anger that the FBI has failed to implement safeguarding recommendations that were made as far back as 2016.

The Committees most prominent member is Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She has publicly linked facial recognition technology to a “global rise in authoritarianism and fascism.”

“Our focus is on democracy and the power of the individual in our country. And I don’t want to see an authoritarian surveillance state, whether it’s run by a government or whether it’s run by five corporations,” she said.

Man's face fed into computer chip

Section 4: Facial recognition: the Future

Stare as we might into our tea leaves here at VPNCompare HQ, we have sadly not yet managed to predict the future successfully.

One thing we can say for certain is that facial recognition technology is not going to be uninvented. It exists and it is here to stay.

The question is how much it will spread and how well its use will be managed and regulated moving forward.

While we cannot say for sure what the future holds, we can look at the spread of CCTV and other comparable technologies and learn from their development.

The truth is that despite initial privacy concerns and protests, these technologies have now become omnipresent.

Whenever we visit a town or city centre, drive our car on a main road, or go into any shop or public building, we accept that we are being recorded on CCTV. It has become socially and ethically acceptable in a way that seemed impossible just a couple of decades ago.

Likewise, it is now common and accepted practice to submit yourself to a fingerprint and retina scan when travelling to many overseas countries.

It is quite possible that facial recognition will take the same journey through public distrust to general acceptance.

As one expert suggested to us, “the arguments will be bludgeoned into us for so long that eventually enough people will give up the fight.” But there are some fundamental differences that mean this shouldn’t be the case.

CCTV footage does not identify people individually and it is not a biometric technology. While it is undoubtedly an invasion of our privacy, it is not collecting unique data about us.

Airport security is collecting biometric data, but this is being done in a very controlled and regulated environment where we can (usually) be confident that the data we are sharing will not be exploited for anything other than border security.

Possible future uses for facial recognition

There is a lengthy list of ways that facial recognition technology could be used in the future.

A lot of these uses are already being trialled to some extent by governments and businesses around the world.

But experience suggests that, if allowed, it will only be a matter of time before facial recognition technology is commonly used in all of these areas and many, many more:

Smart advertising – Facial recognition can be used to either identify individuals or pick up key characteristics like age and gender, and then target adverts at them in public places.

Tackling shoplifting – Most shoplifting is carried out by a small cabal of individuals. Facial recognition cameras in every store could identify when one of these suspects enters a store and help to stop them stealing.

Help blind people – Technology is already being developed for blind people to use facial recognition technology, not just to identify individuals but to be told when someone is smiling or doing other actions and alerting the blind person with a vibration.

Protect police officers – Facial recognition can identify known violent offenders and alert police earlier meaning, for example, they are less likely to unwittingly approach a murderer who could be violent when innocently stopping them for speeding.

Disease diagnosis – Some diseases cause visible changes to facial features but these may not be identifiable with the naked eye. Facial recognition has the potential to allow doctors to spot these warning signs earlier and potentially save lives.

Offer VIP services – Facial recognition has the potential to allow retailers and other service providers to spot their VIP customers early and offer them a preferential service, such as skipping queues and getting freebies.

Banking – Facial recognition could eventually be used to access a whole range of banking services, from withdrawing cash to taking out a loan. These services could be offered online or at designated machines. Facial recognition ATMs already exist but they could be just the beginning.

Speed up airport security – Facial recognition could be used as an alternative to passport checks when entering or leaving a country. In airports, they could also be used by airports to speed up baggage drops and even boarding planes. Potentially, facial recognition could shave big time off flying.

Church attendance – A number of churches are already using facial recognition to track which members of their congregation are attending services and using the data to determine where to seek donations and other forms of support.

Finding lost pets – It is not just humans who can be subjected to facial recognition technology. Technology is already in development that could be used to identify lost dogs and cats who have ended up in shelters and reunite them with owners.

Driver recognition – Facial recognition has already been used to identify drivers who are breaking the law via CCTV cameras. But it could also be used to verify drivers and see who should be allowed to start a car. Some car manufacturers are also exploring it as a tool to change seat positions automatically and even switch radio stations while driving.

Access control – Facial recognition is already used as a tool to enter some secure buildings and facilities such as bank vaults and science labs. But its use in this area could become much more widespread and any building where security clearance is needed could potentially employ the technology.

Communist China – the worst case scenario

The list of possible future uses in the previous section is not all doom and gloom. Indeed some entries on the list, such as finding lost pets, are undeniably positive.

So, what is the worst-case scenario?

Terrifyingly, we don’t have to reach into the realms of science fiction or Black Mirror to find this. It is actually already being played out in real life in Communist China.

The Communist regime in China has created a surveillance state which even George Orwell himself couldn’t have envisaged. Everything that anyone in China does is monitored and recorded.

There will be an estimated 626 million CCTV cameras operating in China by next year.

The Chinese city of Chongqing is the most surveilled in the world with an estimated 2.58m cameras for its 15.35 million people. That’s roughly one camera for every six people. Many of these already use facial recognition.

This technology is used to fight crime but also to stifle dissent and public protest. People know that if they take to the streets in China, they will be identified and punished.

It is part of the Communist regimes much wider public control network that includes internet censorship and surveillance and networks of party activists who keep their ear to the ground locally and report any dissent back to their superiors.

Facial recognition is also a crucial part of the regime’s grotesque social credit system, which assigns every Chinese citizen a score based on their behaviour, obedience, and loyalty to the Communist Party.

A low score can prevent you from buying flights and train tickets and access a whole host of essential services. Facial recognition helps authorities to verify people and decide what services they can use based on this score.

Communist China provides a clear vision of what could happen in the rest of the world if facial recognition usage is allowed to continue to expand unchecked.

It should also provide sufficient incentive to governments in the western world to ensure that appropriate safeguards are put in place to control the use of facial recognition technology moving forward.

Man's face with padlock

What the experts think

UK Science and Technology Select Committee

The UK Government’s Science and Technology Select Committee made the following recommendation in their report on facial recognition technology:

Facial recognition technology should not be generally deployed, beyond the current pilots, until the current concerns over the technology’s effectiveness and potential bias have been fully resolved. The new facial images ‘oversight Board’ that the Minister is planning to set up will need to ensure that that condition is satisfied. But in such an important area, with public confidence critical, it must be ministers and Parliament that take the final decision on any wider deployment of the technology. The forthcoming Biometrics Strategy should include an undertaking that such a decision will not be left to be “an operational decision for the police” and provide a Government commitment to give the House an opportunity to debate and vote on the issue.

They recommend safeguards should be put in place and the decision must not be left down to law enforcement bodies alone but be a decision for elected Parliamentarians who are subject to public scrutiny.

US Federal Trade Commission

The US Federal Trade Commission issued a report entitled Facing Facts which detailed best practices that are recommended for companies developing facial recognition technology. Their recommendations included:

Companies using facial recognition technology should design them with privacy in mind and maintain reasonable data security protections for consumers’ images and the biometric information collected.

Companies should offer consumers simplified choices and increase the transparency of their practice. Where facial recognition is being used, people should be made aware of the fact and given the option to opt out or switch off the feature.

Affirmative consent to use the technology should be sought when using a consumer’s image or any biometric data derived from that image in a materially different manner to how they were informed or the image is shown to anyone who might be able to identify them.

Future of Privacy Forum

The Future of Privacy Forum has published a report which identifies seven privacy principles that should be applied when using facial recognition technology.

These seven principals are all well-argued and we would suggest should form the basis of all regulation and safeguards moving forward:

  1. Consent: Obtain affirmative consent when enrolling someone in a facial recognition programme and identifying a person to third parties.
  2. Use: Respect for Context: Collect, use, and share data in ways that are compatible with consumer expectations.
  3. Transparency: Be clear about how the technology works and how the data it generates is stored and used.
  4. Data Security: Implement technological controls to ensure that all data is stored securely and in line with the law and best practice.
  5. Privacy by Design: Facial recognition technology and related products should be designed with privacy in mind.
  6. Integrity and Access: Implement measures to ensure accuracy of data and have a process in place for individuals to access and contest incorrect data.
  7. Accountability: Those operating and supplying facial recognition technology must be accountable for their products and its uses.

Women's face with AI logo and globe


Facial recognition technology is a hugely complex subject and even though this article is an epic, it still only scratches the surface.

What we have tried to communicate in this guide is what facial recognition is, the scale at which it is already being used around the world, and the enormous threat it poses to privacy online.

If you need something a little more concise to sum up the points we have covered, our infographic below is a convenient and worthwhile resource.

We have tried to make this as factual a document as possible and only expressed an opinion where the evidence really is overwhelming.

But, the truth is, the more you delve into the topic of facial recognition, the clearer the risks become and the more staggering the lack of safeguards and oversight seems.

What most people on all sides of the debate seem to agree (albeit some more reluctantly than others) is that a happy medium needs to be found that allows us to take advantage of all the positives that facial recognition can offer while at the same time protecting innocent citizens from being needlessly spied on.

The Conservative Party MP and prominent civil liberties campaigner David Davis has summed this up in an article for the Guardian.

He concluded, “We need a new legal framework to control these emerging technologies: one that will help police forces tackle crime, but that also protects individual privacy.”

We would heartily concur with those sentiments. But we would also note that the same is true when it comes to encryption but finding a consensus between the privacy and security benefits of that technology has never seemed so far away.

A Visual Guide to the issues of facial recognition

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<a href="https://www.vpncompare.co.uk/facial-recognition-guide"><img src="https://www.vpncompare.co.uk/images/VPNCompare-Facial-Recognition-Infographic.jpg" alt="Facial Recognition Infographic"></a>

Infographic on Facial Recognition

Download here: https://bit.ly/2TkwLJM (Right-click ‘Save link as…’)

Further Reading

If you want to learn more about facial recognition technology and the privacy issues surrounding it, there are a few comprehensive reports that are well worth reading.

Bizarrely, two are called Face Off.

Author: David Spencer

Cyber-security & Technology Reporter, David, monitors everything going on in the privacy world. Fighting for a less restricted internet as a member of the VPNCompare team for over 7 years.

Away from writing, he enjoys reading and politics. He is currently learning Mandarin too... slowly.

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