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Facial Recognition Technology needs no introduction. It has proved its proficiency in handling crimes but has significantly been misused. Amidst the rise of many emerging technologies in 2020, this particular one has been dealt with a blow. A technology that was under constant political and legal speculation is further under the scanner as large commercial entities, and some cities even, are relinquishing its use and trade for at least the near future.

Biometric technologies have become ubiquitous not without the bragging points, which includes its ability to tackle issues such as identity theft, security issues, terror threats and frauds. The technology is also used by law enforcement and private security entities for security, predictive policing, and digital forensics. It is said to be more reliable than fingerprint technology. Businesses use it for client registration and access control.

On a recent note, the technology is providing a helping hand to authorities who are at the forefront of the COVID-19 battle. This is because it could analyze people’s faces by mapping their facial features through images and relevant databases to track infected patients. As the technology was used over fingerprint and biometric scanning, it has prevented many from getting into contact with exposed surfaces. In India, the technology has not only helped authorities in maintaining law and order in times of social distancing but has helped them solve criminal cases.

The blatant misuse of Facial Recognition Technology, on the other hand, is a case study on how the rapid progression of digital innovation could endanger the very legal framework. Followed by the death of George Floyd in police custody, an American Facial Recognition Technology company is facing an investigation for scraping data from social media platforms and the public internet to build its facial recognition algorithm by combining personal data with photos of such individuals, without consent. These investigations focus on the validity and transparency of the firm’s operations.

The recent events have propelled global technology giant IBM to draw the line by declaring that it will no longer offer, develop, or research facial recognition technology. The Algorithmic Justice League commends IBM for ceasing the use and sale of general-purpose facial recognition technology while calling for further steps. Joy Buolamwini, the founder of the Algorithmic Justice League, called this “a first move towards company-side responsibility to promote equitable and accountable AI”.

Soon after IBM’s announcement, Amazon conveyed through a company blog post that it would suspend the use of its facial recognition software, Rekognition, for a year. Microsoft joined the league by announcing that it would suspend the sale of its technology to law enforcement agencies until federal regulations are laid.

Advances in Artificial Intelligence have elevated the scope of facial recognition software, but the cause for concern here is the complete lack of regulations and foresight in using it. It is, as experts suggest, plagued with bias in terms of age, race, and ethnicity – paving the way for civil rights abuses like the ones evidenced recently. The recent events succinctly depict the need for tech with an element of empathy. Who would care about a state-of-the-art world that is socially divided? The good news for the moment is that companies across the globe are working towards finding the balance between commercial interests and ethics. Let’s hope that we soon have a regulatory framework that promotes the appropriate use of this promising technology.