color photo of a 3D rendering of someone's face next to a phone app that was used to create the 3D rendering based on facial-scan technology

Stop Giving Away Your Identity – It Could Cost You Your Freedom

Photo Credit: https://phandroid.com/2016/06/03/snapchat-acquires-seene-3d-imaging-vr/

By: Dylan Scilabro
Articles Editor, American Journal of Trial Advocacy

            There is no denying the age of technology.  It is here and in full force.  People worldwide are adopting and using various forms of social media platforms for commerce, entertainment, and communication.  As users, we are always waiting for the next big thing—jumping at the drop of a dime to participate in the newest trend.  But, what is that costing us?

           I preface this blog post with questions we have heard our whole lives.  If everyone was jumping off a cliff, would you?  If everyone was playing the “run across the busy highway to see who makes it to the other side” game, would you play?  If you had a bad feeling something just was not right, would you still do it?  For most of us, we probably hesitate then choose not to do it.  So, why is it when it comes to technology, specifically social media, are we so naïve?  

           When Facebook was first created in 2004, most people were reluctant to jump on board.  Because most people did not fully understand it,  they were skeptical to join.  But, somewhere over the past 15 years we lost our skepticism and became willfully ignorant to the consequences of what we were participating in.  In today’s society, we type in our personal information and our credit card information, and now we even scan our faces into the internet.  In 2018, billions of people fell victim to cyber-attacks and data breaches.[1]  According to one source, “in 2018—765 million in the months of April, May, and June alone—with losses surpassing tens of millions of dollars.”[2]  So, why do we continually choose to hand over our identities?  This blog post will tackle the implications of the most recent social media trend, facial-scan technology, and how using it might affect you.  

Brief Overview of How Facial-Scan Technology Works

           So how does facial-scan technology work? Facial-scan technology, also known as facial recognition systems, “use biometrics to map facial features from a photograph or video.”[3]  Whether we are intentionally scanning our faces or not is of no consequence.  If we were to look at security camera footage or images, this kind of technology can even pick our faces out of a crowd.[4]  The crazy thing is that the technology does not even need us to be looking straight ahead. [5]  So long as the scan can register enough of our faces, it can identify us.[6]  The next step once the scan has been complete is for the technology to analyze the geometry of our faces.[7]  The key factors in that scan include “the distance between []our eyes and the distance from forehead to chin.”[8] The technology’s result is what is referred to as a “facial signature.” [9]  Which is created and identifies us by a number of our “facial landmarks.” [10]  Once our faces have been scanned in, the technology has the ability to compare the information at any time after with a database of known faces to find a match.[11]  Even though facial recognition technology has some benefits, such as helping us log into our iPhones faster, we should be seriously concerned about the issues that tag along.[12] 

Legal Implications of Scanning Your Face

           The problem with this technology is becoming evident: where we see a face, the recognition technology sees data.[13]  Half of all American adults have their images stored in one or more facial recognition databases.[14]  And in today’s society, data is worth billions to various companies.[15]  The global facial recognition market alone is expected to reach a valuation of “$8.93 billion by the end of the forecast period.”[16]

           When FaceApp came out, for example, everyone was excited to scan in their faces to see how they may look when they are old.[17]  However, the fun in using the app soon turned to fear as many believed the Russian owned app was storing and leaking peoples’ personal data.[18]  But, apart from possible Russian hacking and a bombardment of targeted marketing, this type of technology has even more serious implications here in our own country.  

           We live in an era where police brutality, malicious prosecution, and racial profiling are at the forefront of society.  So, one of the biggest concerns is how the technology is being used for law enforcement purposes.[19] This is a concern which needs to be addressed in light of the fact that some of our biggest cities’ police departments are already using the technology.[20]  Another source reports, “According to a May 2018 report, the FBI has access to over 412 million facial images for searches.”[21]  That is an astounding figure considering the lack of federal regulation, which can often lead to controversial use.[22]   One huge issue with this technology is that “it has been proven in multiple studies to be inaccurate at identifying people of color, especially [African-American] women.”[23]  

           So, not only does this raise the concern that there is a “possibility of misidentifying people leading to  wrongful convictions,” but it will also further divide our society if it is being abused by law enforcement. [24]   Some states like California, Oregon, and New Hampshire are already taking action by outlawing the use of facial recognition technology in the body cameras of police officers.[25]  But, other states like Utah claim “that the technology helps keep dangerous criminals off the street.”[26]  Therefore, the bottom line is that if you are concerned about how you might be affected by the technology (1) check your local and state laws, and (2) do your part to avoid using face scan apps that have the ability to store your facial identity.   


[1] Mike Snider, Your Data Was Probably Stolen in Cyberattack in 2018 – and You Should Care, USA Today (Dec. 28, 2018, 6:00 AM), https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2018/12/28/data-breaches-2018-billions-hit-growing-number-cyberattacks/2413411002/.

[2] Id.

[3] Steve Symanovich, How Does Facial Recognition Work?, Norton, https://us.norton.com/internetsecurity-iot-how-facial-recognition-software-works.html (last visited Jan. 8, 2020).

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Steve Symanovich, How Does Facial Recognition Work?, Norton, https://us.norton.com/internetsecurity-iot-how-facial-recognition-software-works.html (last visited Jan. 8, 2020).

[15] Rob Marvin, The Big Data Market Is Set to Skyrocket by 2022, PCMag (June 14, 2019, 5:00 AM), https://www.pcmag.com/news/368958/the-big-data-market-is-set-to-skyrocket-by-2022 (explaining that the data industry is worth $189 Billion in 2019 and that it is expected to reach $274 Billion by 2022).

[16] Abhishek Sawant, Facial Recognition Market 2019 Global Size, Share, Growth, Competitor Strategy and Trends by Forecast to 2022, Mkt. Watch (Apr. 12, 2019, 5:54 AM), https://www.marketwatch.com/press-release/facial-recognition-market-2019-global-size-share-growth-competitor-strategy-and-trends-by-forecast-to-2022-2019-04-12.

[17] Kevin Webb, The Russian Photo App That Makes You Look Old Is Probably Keeping Your Data, ScienceAlert (July 18, 2019), https://www.sciencealert.com/viral-russian-app-that-makes-you-look-old-is-probably-keeping-your-data.

[18] Id.

[19] Nicole Martin, The Major Concerns Around Facial Recognition Technology, Forbes (Sept. 25, 2019, 3:15 PM), https://www.forbes.com/sites/nicolemartin1/2019/09/25/the-major-concerns-around-facial-recognition-technology/#607f24b94fe3.

[20] Nicole Martin, The Major Concerns Around Facial Recognition Technology, Forbes (Sept. 25, 2019, 3:15 PM), https://www.forbes.com/sites/nicolemartin1/2019/09/25/the-major-concerns-around-facial-recognition-technology/#607f24b94fe3 (explaining that police departments in New York City, Chicago, Detroit, and Orlando are using facial recognition technology).

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] Id. (emphasis added).

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] Id.

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