There have been 307 mass shootings in the US as of November 7, 2018. There were 346 in 2017, and one of them—at a country music festival in Las Vegas—was the deadliest in US history. Countless lives have been lost to gun violence in places where people believe themselves to be safe: malls, festivals, bars, places of worship, and more.
The debate still rages regarding how to prevent these massacres from occurring. Many Americans support stricter gun laws that would keep weapons out of dangerous individuals’ hands, while others believe ownership of said guns is included in their rights. Not much change towards preventing mass shootings is happening as a result of such disagreement. This conversation is an essential one to have, and a solution to the presence of guns will hopefully be reached one day, but it is also necessary to take multiple measures in preventing further massacres.
Besides dealing with weapons, what are such measures? One possibility is the use of facial recognition technology. Facial recognition is a form of biometric analysis that can identify individuals by capturing their images with cameras and analyzing them with advanced software. If a CCTV camera with facial recognition software spots a person with a criminal background entering a premises, it could alert security and law enforcement of their presence, giving them time to take action—or at least be alert—before they have a chance to cause any harm.
Theoretically, law enforcement facial recognition could be applicable to apprehending would-be mass shooters before they can pull out their weapons, depending on what database of photographs the system is using. It could also specify where in a crowd or building a particular individual is located, so police would not need to waste time searching. It’s not a perfect solution, but facial recognition is well worth a conversation.
Facial recognition technology and crime
Facial recognition technology is more widespread and integrated into daily life than many people realize. Some social media tools employ it to identify individuals in photos and videos (companies like Social Gone Viral also offer other automated processes), newer iPhone models use it to scan their owners’ faces and unlock, and some banks have established it as a security measure before customers can access their accounts. A majority of adult Americans already have their likenesses in some kind of recognition database as a result of taking their driver’s license and passport photos as well.
NBC News notes that certain law enforcement agencies, including multiple departments in San Diego, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office of Florida, and the FBI itself regularly use facial recognition technology. Law enforcement in Maryland used its own system to identify the shooter who murdered five people at the Capital Gazette newspaper offices in June 2018. Because agencies already have access to people’s photos, software that matches live images to past pictures and mugshots could help prevent further crime and catch perpetrators afterward.
Officer Simon Kempton in the United Kingdom says: “Post-incident if you think you know who carried it out, the ability to use facial recognition for historical inquiries can help us determine where that individual went. It’s the sort of thing we already do, but the more you can automate it, the quicker and more accurate the process will be.”
Concerns regarding the technology
While facial recognition software has its potential benefits, it is not infallible and is, therefore, not without valid concerns. The technology has historically had significant issues identifying people with darker skin, disguises can fool it, and even poor angles can result in someone going unrecognized. The potential abilities to target certain people (such as immigrants), to know when people are not home, and to monitor the public’s activities (such as attending protests that divulge an individual's’ political leanings) leave room for all sorts of abuse.
People are also worried about how their photos are already inside such databases without their consent. Facial recognition software might incorrectly identify innocent people—which it has—and being constantly watched feels authoritarian. These positives and negatives need to be addressed in the conversation surrounding biometric analysis: would limited use of facial recognition be acceptable? Can law enforcement use it to find people without their consent if they have committed crimes? What rules need to be in place when it comes to identifying people who have never committed crimes before?
Society needs to take necessary (and urgent) measures to prevent mass shootings and catch criminals, so if facial recognition technology has the potential to help with that, it warrants a thorough discussion. Do you believe law enforcement should employ facial recognition technology?