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Facial recognition, promises and risks

Facial recognition, promises and risks

In terms of public freedoms and privacy, the applications of facial recognition are not equal. While the government may soon be working on the subject, the magnitude of the issues requires the greatest attention.

Analysis. For several months, facial recognition has agitated industrialists, political leaders and organizations defending freedoms. It is part of "new technologies that can help strengthen our security" provided that "strike a balance" with "rigorously protected freedoms", Minister of the Interior Christophe Castaner recently reminded us.

The facial recognition evokes a dystopian imagination, rich and frightening. It is indeed a particular technology, which pushes identity verification down to what defines us, facial features. By digitizing - possibly without our knowledge - an unalterable trait, it poses fundamental questions in matters of public liberties. However, this complex technology is not monolithic and can be used in many ways, with very variable privacy issues.

Some uses - mainly for authenticating a person, that is to compare a face to a single template, the digital translation of a face, to see if the two match - have already become a habit. Many recent phones can be unlocked by simply showing their face in front of the screen.


Some companies (banks or online car rentals) verify the identity of their new customer by comparing a selfie they take with the photo of their identity card. Crossing the border at some French airports can be done through a gantry comparing the face of the traveler to that stored in his passport.

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It is also, schematically, the functioning of the Alicem application, currently tested by the Home Office. This application, which must allow identification on certain sites, in particular public service, compares the selfie of the user with his passport photo to attest his identity.

Sometimes facial recognition can identify an unknown person by comparing them to an existing database. Facebook suggests that users be notified as soon as a new photo with them is posted. In another sphere, this is also the case with the "judicial history processing" file (TAJ), which investigators can interrogate with a picture to identify a suspect. A limited practice, unlike in the United States, for example, where it is daily.


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