Facial recognition called ‘biggest threat to democracy’

24th September 2018
Alex Lynn

A leading tech entrepreneur is calling on politicians to help combat the dangers posed by the growing use of facial recognition software. Mike Cowin, CEO of Touch Biometrix, one of the Top 20 fingerprint technology companies in the world, says facial recognition is the ‘biggest threat to democracy’ in today’s society.

Cowin has already won the support of a number of key public figures including Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb, who is calling on Parliament to ‘set rules and scrutiny systems as soon as possible’ to combat the threat to ‘traditional liberties’.
Cowin, whose business is based in St Asaph, North Wales, sent a letter to a select number of politicians, including Baroness Jones, Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott and Norman Lamb, Chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee.

In it he wrote: “You may or may not be aware of the dangers presented to the public by the use of facial recognition. This technology in my opinion represents the biggest threat to democracy today. The unauthorised and seemingly unregulated use of FR by the authorities and commercial entities has to be controlled before it becomes too late. The key difference is that FR can be utilised without the target’s permission by remote observation.”

In the letter, Cowin referred to the widespread use of FR by a number of countries. In certain cases, the technology is being used to track people’s lifestyles, leading to individuals being punished or rewarded according to their ‘social credit’ score.
Cowin added: “It offers a very frightening future that represents a combination of Kafka and 1984.”

Baroness Jones said: “What makes facial recognition different from other biometrics is that it is very easy to collect from a person without their noticing. All the problems associated with identity theft, the pooling of databases and the sharing of adverse information will apply to facial recognition. Mistaken identity is the norm with today’s facial recognition technology.”

Cowin’s Touch Biometrix is using proprietary technology and sensing algorithms to create a range of fingerprint sensors of any shape or size for use on products including smartphones and laptops.

Cowin added: “Unlike facial recognition systems, all other types of biometric technologies require the co-operation of the user to have their biometric data scanned. Our technology will make the user ID experience seamless but, more importantly, your data is not shared with anyone so you keep control.”

The market demand for fingerprint sensors is expected to exceed 1.5 billion units per year by 2020 with the global market for biometrics predicted to reach $15bn by 2025.

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