Who Owns Your Face? Battle Brews Over Facial Recognition | NBC Chicago
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Who Owns Your Face? Battle Brews Over Facial Recognition

A quick scan of a face can be used to identify a suspect, unlock a smart phone and even pay for a purchase. But in the race to be first with facial recognition, there’s a battle brewing between privacy groups, security and big business.

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    A quick scan of a face can be used to identify a suspect, unlock a smart phone and even pay for a purchase. But in the race to be first with facial recognition, there’s a battle brewing between privacy groups, security and big business. NBC 5's Tammy Leitner reports. (Published Monday, Feb. 29, 2016)

    Everywhere you go -- on the street, in a taxi, on a bus, a department store or a bank -- you are being watched.

    “Chicago is one of the most surveyed cities in the nation,” Chicago artist Leo Selvaggio said.

    With at least 25,000 surveillance cameras in the city secretly scanning your face, there’s no way to avoid them. Or is there?

    Selvaggio created the art projectURME Surveillance in an effort to fool facial recognition technology and the cameras recording your every move.

    “This 3-D printed, photo realistic prosthetic of my face, essentially when someone wears it in public, cameras will scan their face and attribute all of their behaviors to my own because they’re wearing my face,” Selvaggio said.

    URME Surveillance at Art Souterrain 2015 from Leo Selvaggio on Vimeo.

    A quick scan of a face can be used to identify a suspect, unlock a smart phone and even pay for a purchase. But in the race to be first with facial recognition, there’s a battle brewing between privacy groups, security and big business.

    Companies like Google and Facebook collect massive amounts of facial recognition data from users.

    Facial recognition is also used commercially in stores to identify returning customers and shoplifters. There are now digital billboards that are able to identify sex, race and age to customize ads. Here in Chicago, facial recognition technology is already used to make arrests.

    “Cameras assisted in the arrest of 926 individuals,” said CTA spokesman Brian Steele.

    The Chicago Transit Authority has one of the largest security camera networks in the country, with cameras on buses, trains and platforms. The CTA does not have facial recognition technology but works closely with Chicago police in identifying suspects.

    “They can take our video, use their software to help recognize people using the facial recognition software,” Steele said.

    Chicago police arrested their first suspect using face recognition back in 2013. But it’s unclear how many others have been arrested with this technology, because the department refused to answer NBC 5 Investigates’ repeated requests for information.

    “At differing times the city has suggested that it uses facial recognition technology,” said Ed Yohnka, ACLU Director of Public Policy. “At other times, they’re denied it exists.”

    There is no Federal law regulating facial recognition technology. Illinois and Texas are the only states with any law prohibiting the collection of biometric information without consent. There have been five lawsuits filed here against companies for allegedly violating the collection and use biometric information.

    Critics question the accuracy of facial recognition technology, so NBC 5 Investigates went to the man who created the controversial facial recognition technology used in Chicago and dozens of countries.

    “When the user is cooperative and the face image is captured under controlled conditions, then the facial recognition accuracy is extremely accurate,” said Michigan State professor Anil Jain.

    The technology analyzes facial landmarks, mapping points on a face. That photo is then compared in a database to more than a million photos - collected from mug shots, driver’s licenses and passport photos.

    Which leaves just one unanswered question:

    “So who owns my identity or my face?” asks artist Leo Salvaggio. “Everyone does.”

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