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Intel launches facial recognition solution amid debate around the tech’s biases

Credit: Intel blog

The chipmaker Intel has now launched a facial recognition solution, which the company says will work with smart locks, access control, point-of-sale devices, ATMs and kiosks, among others. Called RealSense ID, the solution is built on Intel’s depth-sensing technology, a dedicated system-on-a-chip, with an embedded secure element to encrypt and process user data “quickly and safely”.

While Intel listed out all possible use cases of the facial recognition solutions, it did not specify if it would be offering this technology to law enforcement agencies, though it did say that it was “working to ensure the ethical application of RealSense and the protection of human rights”. The tech, Intel said, processes all facial images locally and encrypts all user data. The solution is also only activated through user awareness and will not authenticate unless prompted by a pre-registered user.

“In industries such as finance, healthcare and smart access control, companies need technology they can trust,” Intel said in a blog post. “Intel RealSense ID has built-in anti-spoofing technology to protect against false entry attempts using photographs, videos or masks, and provides a one-in-1-million false acceptance rate”. That accuracy claim appears too high, and it remains to be seen whether the system will exhibit such accuracy rates in real world scenarios. 

Intel’s facial recognition tool comes amid debates about the technology’s biases and potential for harm, particularly against minorities and people of colour. Amazon’s facial recognition tool Rekognition, for instance, misidentified 28 members of Congress as criminals. Research, in general, has shown that facial recognition tools are worse at detecting and identify faces of darker-skinned people, creating ample room for discrimination and persecution.

Several major companies last year announced that they would temporarily halt sales of their facial recognition systems until new regulations are made to govern the use of the tech. Microsoft said that it will not sell the technology to police in the US until a federal law is enacted, with Amazon committing to the same thing, albeit just for a year. IBM said that it will stop offering “general-purpose facial recognition and analysis software” altogether.

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India is deploying facial recognition systems left, right and centre

From several departments of the Indian government itself to several state governments and their respective police departments, the use of facial recognition technology is proliferating across the country. Recently, the Central Board of Secondary Education rolled out a facial recognition system — without a privacy policy — for students to download their academic documents. The National Crime Records Bureau is currently working towards building a national level facial recognition system, and only very recently revealed that it wants to test the system on mask-wearing faces, and that it to generate “comprehensive biometric reports”.

Multiple airports have added facial recognition systems as an additional way for passengers to board flights. Local police departments are purchasing or piloting facial recognition algorithms — for instance, the Vadodara city police piloted Clearview AI’s controversial facial recognition system. States like Telangana have piloted the tech in civic elections, and are mulling introducing the tool for obtaining rations at fair price shops.

Central Railway is also considering setting up similar facial recognition systems at some of its premises in Parel, we had earlier reported. Bengaluru’s railway station is gearing up to be surveilled by CCTV cameras capable of carrying out facial recognition, at a cost of over ₹4.5 crore.

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