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Facial Recognition - You Can Run, but You Cannot Hide

By Peter Clarke, JD on December 19, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section on legal developments surrounding technology and the internet.

You might like to think that you can move about in the world without being noticed. Perhaps you relish the idea of being able to disappear into a crowd while not being recognized. But such notions of anonymity are disappearing.

Of course, you probably have heard about GPS tracking that can be used to determine the specific geographic whereabouts of a person. And now facial recognition can be used to pinpoint the identity of a person in a crowd or frankly at any location where the technology is implemented.

As an example, it has been reported by the Associated Press that the top German security official is extending tests of automatic facial recognition technology at a train station after a half-year study demonstrated that the technology had a good success rate.

These tests used high-quality photos of in excess of 200 volunteers to recognize them as they moved through the Suedkreuz train station in Berlin.

The cameras used identified the volunteers more 70% of the time, according to Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere. And the wrong person was picked out less than 1% of the time.

The Interior Minister said that another half-year test will ascertain if the system can identify a person effectively using lower-quality images -- for instance, when a police mug shot of a fugitive is not available. Thomas de Maiziere would like to roll out the system to train stations and airports across Germany if the second testing is a success.

We can see why this technology can be beneficial for law enforcement. Plainly, it can be valuable to identify and deal with terrorists and other criminals as they travel possibly on their way to commit illegal and dangerous activities.

On the other hand, our notions of privacy continue to disappear in the high-tech world, and this is yet one more example of how any one of us can be tracked. We will see whether privacy advocates protest the potential vast implementation of this type of facial recognition technology, or whether law enforcement sentiments will carry the day.

Eric Sinrod (@EricSinrod on Twitter) is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP, where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. You can read his professional biography here. To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod's columns, please email him at with Subscribe in the Subject line. This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's law firm or its individual partners.

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