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Australia’s law enforcement now uses facial recognition software to enforce Covid-19 regulations

By: Phoebe Shi

People in Western Australia who catch Covid-19—and their close contacts—must stay at home for one week, according to government protocol. The police in these areas check to see if they are actually at home through text messages asking them to take a selfie. The police then use facial recognition software and GPS tracking to see if they actually took the selfie at home or not. Australia is the only democracy to use this technology for these purposes.

This technology can also be found in Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania, and New South Wales. Multiple cities and states in the U.S., such as San Francisco, Oakland, and Somerville, MA, have banned law enforcement from using facial recognition software. Companies like Microsoft, Google, and Amazon have said they will not sell their facial recognition algorithms to the police or any other agencies until there is a federal law in place to regulate the use of facial recognition.

Many people think that the use of this technology is a violation of privacy. One group, Fight for the Future, is working to ban facial recognition.

"Like nuclear energy and biological weapons, facial recognition poses a threat to human society and our basic liberties that far outweigh any potential benefits," says Leila Nashashibi, a member of the group.

Facial recognition technology company Clearview AI first garnered attention when a billionaire, John Catsimatidis, used the technology to identify his daughter’s date. Now, the Ukrainian government is using it to identify dead Russian soldiers.

The company also suggests that their technology be used in schools to recognize expelled students and visitors to prevent school shootings. Trials of facial recognition and object recognition technology are underway at some schools, as districts test how object recognition tracks hidden items.

"Clearview AI is exploiting people's terror and trauma by saying that surveillance and policing is the answer," Nashashibi says.

The use of facial recognition technologies in law enforcement has been heavily debated. Although it can be very helpful, people can also feel they no longer have privacy.

"No country in the world has got it right," says Australian Human Rights Commissioner Edward Santow. "If the privacy protections were suitable, this project would be a really simple one."

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