Danish Prison Union Head Wants Facial Recognition for Inmates

A black and white photo of Kim Østerbye

writer icon Kay Lagercrantz     Nicolai Perjeci   |   Tech Ethics     🕐 30. Aug. 2018

On 1 August 2018, a man escaped from Vestre Prison in Copenhagen. He was able to escape by switching clothes with a person who was visiting him in the prison.

In the resulting chaos, The police in Copenhagen closed down the central train station and spread across the city in the hopes of catching the escaped convict.

A month later, he is still missing.

Facial Recognition
Kim Østerbye, The chairman of the Prison Union, has called for Danish prisons to start using facial recognition technology. 

He said to TV2 “We do not photograph detained prisoners. We have suggested it before, but it has been rejected. This should be seriously considered now, as it means that all prisoners get an ID card, that we can identify them with”

Use of such a technology raises several issues.

If a government authority should choose to implement Facial Recognition, then it follows that someone with access to the database could quite easily access someone's personal information by using their face.

Protests in the U.K.
In the U.K. there are protests against the Metropolitan Police’s use of facial recognition technology. People are concerned about the use of automated facial recognition by the authorities, They want to see the removal of thousands of unconvicted persons from the database. 

In Wales, the police came under fire for using facial recognition technology when it was revealed that they had wrongly identified over 2 000 individuals. 

Half of Americans in a database
In the U.S., The Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law have developed The Perpetual Line-Up, which points the finger at the unregulated use of facial recognition technology by the police in America. 

The Perpetual Line-Up states that “One in two American adults is in a law enforcement network”. As it is unlikely that 50% of the American Population are criminals, one must wonder why such a high number of faces have been documented, and to what end.

When such documentation occurs, there are risks that it leads to higher incidents of discrimination and social injustice.

The FBI has reported accuracy deficiencies, particularly when it comes to identifying both female and African American individuals. Despite this, the technology continues to be used. The FBI is required to state the intended use of the database, in order for people to manage and protect their own privacy, but they failed to do so. 

Security Breaches
Denmark has had issues of security breaches within its prisons before. Earlier this year, personal information about hundreds of State employees, including prison guards, was leaked online. The publishing of the employee information was to have happened by accident, as a result of a test being carried out on a website being set up by IT company Miracle.

The breach was not made public knowledge until June, when the government confirmed the sectors that were affected, including the Prison and Probation Service.

The leak put the lives of prison employees and their families at risk, leaving them vulnerable to threats and even potential acts of revenge from inmates, families of inmates, and ex-convicts.

Speaking to Danish News Agency Ritzau about the breach, Østerbye said that “it sure as hell isn’t very lucky to find out our personal data is just floating around on the internet”.

Issues with accuracy
When it comes to facial recognition technology, the laws have yet to catch up.

Research carried out by Big Brother Watch discovered that "The overwhelming majority of the [U.K.] police’s ‘matches’ using automated facial recognition to date have been inaccurate. On average, a staggering 95% of ‘matches’ wrongly identified innocent people." 

In a society where one’s own face can be enough reason to be legally stopped, even arrested, are the risks too high? Particularly while there are such high instances of flaws in the technology.

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