Emptying or throwing away our water bottles before passing air control may now seem a common measure every time we travel by plane, -although this summer the airports have been quite empty-. But 19 years ago, stricter supervision systems began to be put in place prior to boarding prompted by the events of September 11, 2001. This date marked a turning point in terms of politics, terrorism and the wars that followed, but It was also the beginning of a series of measures that we were accepting in favor of our security .
As a result of these events that horrified the world, air travel and other more subtle provisions were permeating our society. After the post-traumatic shock of the attack, we began to convince ourselves little by little of the need to give our privacy to the security forces, government agencies and companies of various kinds that offered to protect us, especially in the United States, where psychosis was more evident . The databases were fed with facial identities, but citizens did not think of asking for anything in return, not even permission. Everything for safety.
A decade later, when the technology seemed mature enough, the first facial recognition systems began to be installed in airports. The first to release it was that of Tocumen, in Panama, which had a certain reputation as a transit area for smugglers and organized crime. In 2011, the government of this country partnered with that of the United States to test a pilot program of the Face First company in order to prevent illegal trafficking. And the success was such that they expanded it to other terminals.
Currently, all Canadian international airports use a facial recognition system. Australia and New Zealand use a border system called SmartGate, which automatically compares the traveler’s face with the information on their electronic passport. And since 2018, the US Customs and Border Protection has implemented it for passengers taking international flights.
And in Spain? Yes, last year it also arrived at the airports of Menorca and terminal 4 of Madrid-Barajas with a pilot program. According to Aena, the objective pursued, in addition to increasing security, is to speed up the process of accessing the plane so that it can be done without the need to show the boarding pass or identification documentation.
But the most cutting-edge and controversial country, which has by far covered much of its territory with facial recognition equipment, is China . It has not only installed these biometric devices in train stations and airports, but also in office buildings, tourist attractions, shopping centers or entrances to mosques. In some cities you can find surveillance cameras installed every hundred meters or so. Your police carry these systems built into glasses and helmets, and are used in a variety of situations, from checking a suitcase to making payments. A law requires companies to record the facial biometric parameters of the user of any new mobile phone and it has even been promoted through subsidies,the development of facial identification technology with masks.
Governments and security agencies around the world already use these recognition methods to identify criminals, corpses in forensic medicine, search for missing children or prevent document fraud. In Europe we are still quite far from the figures for surveillance devices of the Asian giant, although the United Kingdom stands out from the continent in the number of cameras installed. It is estimated that there are more than four million. Only in London there would be about 500,000, compared to 25,000 in Paris, or 219 in Madrid – dedicated to security.
Facial recognition methods dedicated to mass surveillance had to wait until the second decade of the 20th century, in part because the first attempts showed that the results were far from being desired. The first time it was used in a major event was in the 2002 Super Bowl, which was generally a failure. Numerous false positives showed that the technology was not yet ready for the large crowds. Starting in 2015, UK police forces began testing it for public live events as well, but a report by Big Brother Watch found that these methods continued to return up to 98% inaccurate results.
One of the obstacles to working properly in large crowds can be difficulty in obtaining a quality image. The INTERPOL Facial Recognition System (IFRS) stores facial images submitted by more than 160 countries, making it a unique database in law enforcement. This system, launched at the end of 2016, has managed to identify more than 650 criminals, fugitives and missing persons. But its website already warns that the quality of the images is an essential aspect and that those that only have a medium or low resolution may not achieve or negatively influence the accuracy of the search.
This page specifies that “the ideal would be to have a passport photograph in accordance with the ICAO standard , since it is a complete frontal image of the person with homogeneous lighting on the face and a neutral background.”
But outside the field of security, we already saw how artificial intelligence applied to this field appeared in our social networks as something innocent and original back in 2010, when Facebook incorporated it to recognize the faces of our friends in the photographs that we uploaded and the labels we provided. Their use spread quickly and today they are found in many of the smartphones and applications that we use every day.
The controversies about the use of biometrics have arisen mainly when it was discovered that some companies and organizations used the information collected for a purpose other than that authorized. This issue has been at the center of the debate on ethics and privacy since 2001, caused in turn by a legal vacuum in the application of new information technologies.
In recent months, controversies over its use have increased, driven in part by the Black Lives Matter movement , in response to which different organizations have begun to back down accusing excessive control and possible promotion of racism and social injustice. Amazon or IBM