Report: Biometrics

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  Face recognition

In order to be able to recognize a person, one commonly looks at this persons face, for it is there where the visual features which distinguish one person from another are concentrated. Eyes in particular seem to tell a story not only about who somebody is, but also about how that persons feel, where his / her attention is directed, etc. People who do not want to show who they are or what is going on inside of them must mask themselves. Consequently, face recognition is a kind of electronic unmasking.

"Real" face-to-face communication is a two-way process. Looking at somebody's face means exposing ones own face and allowing the other to look at oneself. It is a mutual process which is only suspended in extraordinary and voyeuristic situations. Looking at somebody without being looked at places the person who is visually exposed in a vulnerable position vis-à-vis the watcher.

In face recognition this extraordinary situation is normal. Looking at the machine, you only see yourself looking at the machine. Face biometrics are extracted anonymously and painlessly by a mask without a face.

Therefore the resistance against the mass appropriation of biometrical data through surveillance cameras is confronted with particular difficulties. The surveillance structure is largely invisible, it is not evident what the function of a particular camera is, nor whether it is connected to a face recognition system.

In a protest action against the face recognition specialist Visionics, the Surveillance Camera Players therefor adopted the strategy of re-masking: in front of the cameras, they perfomed the play "The Masque of the Red Death" an adaption of Edgar Allen Poe's classic short story by Art Toad.

According to Visionics, whose slogan is "enabling technology with a mass appeal", there are alrady 1.1 bn digitised face images stored on identification data banks world wide. When combined with wide area surveillance camera networks, face recognition is capable of creating a transparent social space that can be controlled by a depersonalised, undetected and unaccountable centre. It is a technology, of which the surveillance engeneers of sunken totalitarian regimes may have dreamt, and one that today is being adopted by democratic governments.

browse Report:
-3   Identity vs. Identification
-2   Identificaiton in history
-1   Biometric technologies
0   Face recognition
+1   Iris recognition
+2   fingerprint identification
+3   Palm recognition
Biometrics applications: privacy issues