How Far Is Too Far with Facial Recognition?

We have taken leaps and bounds with the technology of facial recognition. We started out using it to sign into our devices, and now we’ve moved on to where it’s being used by law enforcement to capture the bad guys.

But has it gone too far? The woman who wrote this article thinks it has. We want to know what you think, so we’re asking, “how far is too far with facial recognition?”

Our Opinion

Alex says, “We need laws to govern the use of facial recognition, and we need them last year.” He feels we’ve gone on too long on “a wing and a prayer,” assuming that just because you’re out in public, it means you consent to having your personal appearance cataloged by anyone who happens to have a camera. Currently, “the police could theoretically track the movements of one individual across an entire city with no warrrant, no physical surveillance, and no oversight.” He finds that unacceptable and thinks it can’t help but lead to abuses.

Phil thinks the whole thing is a pickle, as it’s going to become an epidemic for faces, gaits, voices, etc., to be subject to machine reading. He agrees that what biometric data official channels can collect from you and store needs to be regulated. Unofficial channels don’t adhere to laws, yet it does help make crime detection easier.


“Privacy and security are always at odds because in order to monitor crime, you are also by definition invading privacy.” He sees it as a difficult juggling act and believes we need to get used to having less privacy with governments pushing for more and smarter surveillance systems. In the UK they have more CCTV cameras than almost any other country, so they’re kind of used to being watched. “It does help prevent crime and catch criminals, but you have no idea when you are being watched.”

Miguel would draw a line on government use but realizes the governments are going to use it regardless of what the public thinks, with some even using it without public knowledge. “There are these little things called ‘masks’ that even mediocre criminals know how to use, so this will be ineffective policing the criminal population.” We should expect facial recognition to be used to police those who “offend their governments in less heinous ways, perhaps not even knowing that they have done so.”

But he realizes it’s a good tool for catching criminals, as we can’t expect them to wear masks 24/7. “Isolating their paper trails, catching other biometric identifiers, and having facial data handy could help catch them” perhaps before they jump on a train, to be sure there’s a welcoming party waiting for them once they get off.

Andrew agrees with Phil and Miguel regarding privacy expectations. “It’s safer to assume that if the technology exists, it’s being used on us, and we can’t do much about it.” But he thinks he can draw lines on government use to prevent the data from being used against citizens too freely.


He wonders how far is too far and thinks China could be a good example with their new social credit scoring system and governmental ability to use tech without really any limits. They found a wanted man at a concert of 60,000 people recently, so it’s already in use, and officers even have what amounts to AR glasses with facial-recognition technology, but he doesn’t think it really even works that well.

He definitely expects it to be taken too far, but he also holds out hope that there will be some pushback and alternative technologies.

Ryan points out that nearly everyone born after the year 2000 has “grown up in a world where they can expect to have their image, thoughts, and opinions plastered all over the Internet without giving their consent.” He doesn’t think it’s an issue for most people as the “privacy” concept is evolving with technology. While we can get upset with it, “the fact of the matter is later generations won’t have the same concerns as those of us who can remember a time before social media, et al.”

I tend to agree with the overall thought here that there isn’t much we can do with how facial recognition technology is evolving. I think we went all too quickly from, “Wow, that is so cool” to “Woah, wait a minute …” I don’t think there is a way to stop it, so I agree also that there needs to be some type of legislation to how it’s used to protect our privacy as much as possible.

Your Opinion

Have you also noticed how quickly the facial recognition technology has evolved? Do you agree that there should be some type of legislation on how it’s used? What are your thoughts? How far is too far with facial recognition? Let us know your thoughts and concerns in our comments section below.

Laura Tucker Laura Tucker

Laura has spent nearly 20 years writing news, reviews, and op-eds, with more than 10 of those years as an editor as well. She has exclusively used Apple products for the past three decades. In addition to writing and editing at MTE, she also runs the site's sponsored review program.


  1. Studies have found no evidence that the increased amount of surveillance in London has had any positive effect on crime prevention.

    Also, let’s not take China as an example for privacy matters. I don’t want to live in a society that publicly blames me, because I crossed a red light (as a pedestrian, mind you). Social scoring is a dystopian nightmare.
    As for the success in catching 1 criminal in a crowd of 60.000.. look up the incident in Wales (?) where more than 2.400 people were flagged as criminals at the CL finals. If this happens in an automated setting, with automated arrest orders being issued, etc.. we will be in deep trouble.
    Technology is not flawless and never will be.

    Furthermore, history has shown so far that e technology that exists will eventually be used and also abused. Giving in one step will lead to a second step and a third and a fourth. Maybe not this year, but in 5, 10 or 20.. it is inevitable unless society remains wary and on the edge.

  2. “How Far Is Too Far with Facial Recognition?”
    As far as individuals are concerned, ANY facial recognition is too far. As far as governments are concerned, they want to map every pore, every follicle on our faces.

    “we’ve moved on to where it’s being used by law enforcement to capture the bad guys.”
    “Capturing the bad guys” sounds like a very desirable and laudable goal. However, the devil is in the definition of a “bad guy”. Today it is the rapist, the murderer, the bank robber, etc. Tomorrow it may be the jaywalker, the litter bug, the person who spits on the sidewalk. The day after it may be somebody from a different political party or someone who does not wholeheartedly agree with government stated views.

    In order to catch the criminals and terrorist, how much privacy are we willing to give up? Are we willing to let A/V cameras surveil us 24/7/365 everywhere we go, and I mean EVERYWHERE?! Because that is the only sure way of uncovering criminal and terrorist conspiracies.

    I agree with Ryan that within a generation or two, universal surveillance will become a non-issue because it will become part of the background of our daily lives.

    ” he thinks he can draw lines on government use to prevent the data from being used against citizens too freely.”
    HOW?! Government will do whatever it wants, whenever it wants. Remember the Golden Rule “The one in power makes the rules”. If you are aggrieved in your daily life, you go to the courts or the government to get redress. But who do you turn for redress when the government is the offender?

  3. It’s going the way of the world, along with CCTV, automatic number-plate recognition and DNA testing and much of the blame must lie at the feet of certain, less than scrupulous, defence lawyers who insist on proof positive of the identity of the accused, whether it’s an alleged criminal offence or a terrorist situation and, yes, I know it is their job to defend their clients to the best of their abilities but some do so without any sense of moral integrity or social responsibility.

    Facial recognition is still in its infancy, hence there will be a high rate of error, both false positives and false negatives, nevertheless, on a slightly more positive note, it could, eventually, be used to rule out those, who according to eye-witnesses “look like” the person involved in the offence and hopefully help prevent miscarriages of justice – whether or not that is how it is used remains to be seen.

    I must agree though, that masks, ski masks, balaclavas and hoodies will degrade the quality of any results, a fact that miscreants are all too aware of, so as to its cost-effectiveness, I have no idea.

    How many privately owned drones with cameras fitted are there and who regulates them?

    Like so many scientific and technological “advances” of recent decades, you can’t put the genie back in the bottle, in terms of regulation of the procedures for the use of surveillance and identification techniques, who regulates the regulators?

    1. “some do so without any sense of moral integrity or social responsibility.”
      Wherever did you acquire the quaint notion that lawyers must have moral integrity or that should be “socially responsible”? Both of those qualities only get in the way of performing their job effectively. Prosecutors are just as bad. They will try to obtain a conviction using the flimsiest of evidence. But both are just doing their job. The job of the prosecutor is to get a conviction. The job of the defense attorney is to get their client off.

      “Facial recognition ……………… could, eventually, be used to rule out those, who according to eye-witnesses “look like” the person involved in the offence and hopefully help prevent miscarriages of justice”
      That will only be possible if 100% of people are under video surveillance 100% of the time. To get a hint of what that would be like, check out the series “Person of Interest” that ran on CBS TV for couple of years. I, for one, would not want to live under such scrutiny.

  4. Perhaps, but I wouldn’t be so narrow minded as to say that ALL lawyers lack integrity or social conscience, for a start, I don’t know ALL lawyers, certainly here in the UK there are a number who give their services for free, on a regular basis, to help people less able, or cannot afford, to fight their own battles as I am sure that there are some “Pro Bono” lawyers in the US and elsewhere.

    Yes, I watched the whole series of “Person of interest”, it was broadcast here in the UK and much as I enjoyed it as a story, it reinforces my point that technology of any sort is open to abuse, if you recall, the original use of “The Machine” in the series was to detect impending acts of terrorism and violence and the point of the story was the abuse (and counter abuse) of that facility.

    The first thing that the military often investigate with new technology is “can we weaponise it?” (nuclear energy is a prime example), politicians on the other hand, tend towards “how can I use this to increase or consolidate my power?”, those attitudes are unlikely to change.

    I repeat that facial recognition is in its infancy – for the moment – but in terms of surveillance, in addition to street mounted CCTV, internet monitoring, publicly or authority owned drones, and home and business mounted CCTV, all smart phones have cameras and a video capability as do dashboard cameras which are becoming more and more widespread, all of those are capable of infringing privacy, would you have people banned from owning and using these devices by law?

    Who would monitor that such a law was being observed and how would they do that?

    How would you argue against a homeowner, a driver or a business owner’s right to take passive measures for their own protection and that of their families?

    The technology genie is well and truly out of the bottle and while we have a supply of electricity, it’s not going back any time soon and, as with all things, it can be put to good use – OR NOT.

    The inherent weakness of any system, religious, political, legal or technological lies in the people who run it or use it and, sadly, as has been seen in the past and is seen in the present, some have abused it and continue to do so, there are just too many examples for me to quote, so I’ll leave you to do your own research but, be advised, you MIGHT be being monitored.

    That being said, the use of technology in the prevention and detection of terrorist activity and major organised crime is, in my opinion not only justified but essential – many perpetrators appear, on the surface, to be “ordinary people” – the problem is how to tell the difference – a Nobel Peace Prize surely awaits anyone who can come up with a foolproof answer to that one!

    In other words, it’s not the technology, be it surveillance, GPS tracking, DNA mapping or facial recognition that is the problem, it’s how it is used, surveillance and monitoring is so diverse and widespread these days, not only by the “authorities” but as indicated above, by private citizens, we might as well get used to it, relax and enjoy life as best we can.

    I agree that just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean that “they” are NOT out to get you, but stress kills.

  5. “I wouldn’t be so narrow minded as to say that ALL lawyers lack integrity or social conscience”
    It’s not being ‘narrow minded’, it’s being realistic. The job of a prosecutor is to prosecute and, hopefully, get a conviction. The job of a defense lawyer is to defend and, hopefully, get the client off. Both the prosecutors and defenders are evaluated on their success rate. A prosecutor with a high conviction rate is considered to be “tough on crime” and usually gets elected to the position of District Attorney. A defense lawyer who obtains many ‘not guilty’ verdicts becomes rich and is very much in demand. If integrity and social conscience were paramount in the legal profession, justice would be done in very close to 100% of all cases. However, thye judicial process would be very much slower then the current snail’s pace and no lawyer would want to defend anybody with a criminal record.

    “the point of the story was the abuse (and counter abuse) of that facility.”
    That’s your take on the story.

    “would you have people banned from owning and using these devices by law?”
    How did you arrive at that conclusion? My fear is quite the opposite. I am afraid that governments will mandate that such devices be used in every room and conveyance, and that their output be constantly available to those governments.

    “The inherent weakness of any system, religious, political, legal or technological ”
    The inherent weakness of any system is that it eventually WILL be abused. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. As Lord Acton so succinctly put it “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

    “it’s not the technology”
    The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.

    In this case, you are preaching to the choir although I am bit more cynical about the lawters than you.

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