Will facial recognition catch on in schools and public institutions?

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Imagine a regular classroom setting with the addition of inconspicuously placed security cameras focusing in on each student. The teacher confirms attendance without the need for a roll call. The cameras pick up on the students’ reactions and their level of attentiveness in class. The data is then collected to assess their attitude in general and provide feedback. This will be used to grade them in school, and if combined with other behavioural patterns, influence their standing in life.

This scenario will sound like a deeply intrusive and worrying use of technology to most people. It may also seem too early to collect such data on an individual. In China, however, this is already becoming a reality in schools across the country.

Mystery Eyes

Along with other uses of facial recognition, China has become a pioneer at implementing the technology in State institutions such as detention centres and schools. Students have reported changing their behaviour as a result of increased monitoring.

“Previously when I had classes that I didn’t like very much, I would be lazy and maybe take naps on the desk, or flick through other textbooks,” one student told Hangzhou.com. “But I don’t dare be distracted after the cameras were installed in the classrooms. It’s like a pair of mystery eyes are constantly watching me.”

My Face, My Identity

Facial recognition technology is already widely used by the communist state, especially in policing. To critics, it is a powerful new tool for the authoritative regime to conduct mass surveillance and to crack down on dissent. To its proponents however, it is yet another instance of China leading the world in the use of futuristic technology. Enthusiasts claim this is a convenience technology, making everyday tasks simpler. For example, it can be used for individual authentication (replacing identity documents, passwords, signing documents etc.) or for consumer verification when purchasing goods and services. For businesses and institutions, it will be a cost reduction technology. Human jobs that require monitoring or interaction can be replaced by responsive machines fitted with facial recognition capabilities.

Public Scrutiny

Law makers in several other countries have proposed legislation to curtail or restrict its use. Politicians like Bernie Sanders, are seeking to ban the use of facial recognition in sensitive scenarios such as policing. He argues that it is prone to overuse and misused against racial minorities and vulnerable populations. As with most technologies, privacy and personal intrusion are other major concerns. Despite the scrutiny, it won’t be long before facial recognition is commonly used across major urban centres worldwide.

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