The facial recognition debate: Orwellian dystopia or effective tool in the fight against crime?  - The Post

The facial recognition debate: Orwellian dystopia or effective tool in the fight against crime? 

The clamour for the use of the technology is growing, with the police leading the chorus of approval

October 25th, 2019 6:47 pm| by Soma Biró

You know it from your iPhone, the airport and Facebook – facial recognition technology. And perhaps you’ve read about its possible benefits and potential dangers. And now Copenhagen Police would like to employ it in its ceaseless fight against crime.

This week, department chief Jørgen Bergen Skov told Berlingske that it would be “a huge advantage” and a “priceless tool” if they could employ facial recognition technology, adding that it would be especially helpful in the hunt for suspected terrorists.

And it would appear that the surveillance-friendly government is keen to oblige.

Surveillance already in place
Denmark is one of the EU countries that uses the most surveillance. According to an analysis conducted by the union SikkerhedsBranchen, there are 1.5 million public and private surveillance cameras in use in the country – three times as much as an estimate made in 2013.

As a response to the bombings that took place in Copenhagen over the summer, the government has recently revealed a new ‘security-package’ that proposes, among other things, allowing the police to set up 300 additional cameras and enabling it to take control of the 1.5 million cameras already in place – if extraordinary situations demand so.

There have been 13 bombings in Copenhagen this year so far, and PM Mette Frederiksen is worried that their frequency, along with the ongoing gang conflict, is poisoning the Danish people with insecurity, “slowly changing the way we think and live” – even though the general crime rate is actually falling.

“The structure of Danish society is at stake” she asserted to Berlingske.

A useful tool
According to Skov, the use of facial recognition would enable the police to  identify bags, clothes, emblems and other things that might help them find a perpetrator.

If the police are looking for, say, a terrorist in the city, they have to collect a massive amount of surveillance footage and manually look for the person and the items that might identify them. This job requires quite a lot of manpower.

The help of a facial recognition software could save the police both time and human resources by doing the menial work for them. It would be “an advantage for us”, reasoned Skov.

Divided opinions
However, the government is not willing to go as far as the police chief would like. Facial recognition is not included in the security package, and Socialdemokraterne spokesperson Jeppe Bruus told Berlingske on Thursday that they have no plans to allow its utilisation of the technology as of yet. “But I won’t dismiss the idea that we will be discussing this at some point,” he added.

Less favourable are the red bloc parties Enhedslisten, SF, Alternativet and Radikale. While Enhedslisten called it a violation of privacy, Alternativet went as far as calling for a complete ban.

On the right there is more support. Inge Støjberg, the vice chair of Venstre, argues it would be a great help when, for example, dealing with gang-related crime. Dansk Folkeparti stands by the idea as well and agrees that the technology would allow the police to save a large amount of precious time.

Already in use: home and abroad
The prominence of facial recognition technology has been increasing around the globe. The British use it at stadiums to spot troublemakers among the crowd, while China has the largest network of cameras coupled with facial recognition software.

In Hong Kong, in the midst of demonstrations against China’s involvement in the region, protesters are destroying newly installed ‘smart-lampposts’ for fear that they might be collecting pictures for facial recognition purposes.

As for Denmark, there are only two places where you will run into facial recognition. One is Brøndby Stadium, where facial recognition is employed as a measure to keep banned football fans from entering, and the other, unsurprisingly, is at passport control at Copenhagen Airport.

In the light of the variety of political opinions on the subject, the request from the police, and the recently revealed security-package, it seems that wider usage of facial recognition is not yet at close proximity to becoming a reality – but it isn’t that far off either.