The world has learned a lot when dealing with the brunt of the COVID19 pandemic, and there is speculation that the lessons we’ve learned here are likely to impact the way we live our lives even after a vaccine becomes available and cases drop off with time. One of the biggest lessons we’ve learned is what mandated face masks can do for our personal privacy, especially in heavily surveilled states. Some people consider face mask mandates to be an unwanted imposition. Privacy enthusiasts couldn’t possibly be happier with the mandate.
The Mandate of Face Mask
Many countries and states implemented federal mandates requiring that facial coverings be worn in public places in order to prevent or lessen the spread of the pandemic. Before, it used to be illegal to wear face coverings in public places. Our governments are now forcing us to comply with the exact opposite for the sake of our health and safety.
Many People Reject the Idea of Compliance
Individuals who detest long armed governments loudly oppose face mask mandates, claiming that forcing them to wear a protective mask limits their right to choose. This debate does have its merits to an extent, but it’s not the most important debate in modern times.
Privacy is a much larger debate that will reach almost everything we do, and it was just as important a decade ago as it will be a decade from now. Complying with the face mask mandate may be your key to standing up for your privacy rights – especially in parts of the world that utilize facial recognition technology to track their citizens.
How Facial Recognition Technology Works
Facial recognition technology works, essentially, as a combination of a cop and a nanny. Cameras use algorithms to find faces in crowds and correlate them to state provided ID card photos, all while monitoring the behavior of the individual in public. China has one of the most stringent systems for facial recognition technology. It’s utilized in every single public place, and its monitoring goes so far as to detect undesirable social behavior.
It goes without saying that facial recognition algorithms rely on faces. When most of a face is covered by a mask, algorithms have a hard time figuring out who is who in a large crowd. People who were never granted the anonymity to merely live their lives in public without undue scrutiny are now free to do so, all thanks to the COVID19 pandemic.
Breaking Tech with Face Masks
The US National Institute of Standards and Technology (or NIST) is responsible for recording how well tech works. In this case, their studies focused on commonly available facial recognition tech and the way it reacts with face masks. Depending on the mask worn and the algorithm used, face masks can skew error percentages for facial recognition technology from anywhere between 5 percent and 50 percent.
Black masks make it exceedingly difficult for facial recognition technology to recognize a face. Masks that cover most of the nose also significantly skew software accuracy. Therefore, a black mask that covers most of the nose is most likely to generate facial recognition errors with the majority of the software used to track and monitor people.
NIST’s tests only focused on one-to-one face recognition software. One-to-one is designed to be the most accurate. A single face from a well lit, straight on perspective is run through a database for potential matches.
Technology used in public places is a one-to-many system, which already has a lower accuracy percentage. Lighting, angles, constant motion, and many moving targets work in conjunction to impede one-to-many systems, no matter how accurate they can be. Combining a black face mask that covers most of the nose with a one-to-many facial recognition system should effectively outright break that system, as it is already inherently less equipped.
Companies Are Trying to Roll Out Fixes
Most facial recognition tech companies are already well aware that face masks significantly hinder their accuracy. Some have began to develop facial recognition tech that will work around face masks, primarily by heavily emphasizing the eyes and other features of the face that remain visible even when a face mask is worn. Russian tech firm NTechLab claims that they’ve perfected facial recognition technology that works even when subjects are wearing a balaclava. Since this has never been proven by an unbiased party, it’s impossible to know if the firm is telling the truth.
Personal Privacy Wins
Although some people may feel that face mask mandates are a blow to their personal freedoms, they’ve certainly a win for personal privacy. If wearing a mandated face mask is all it takes to regain the privacy you deserve as a law abiding citizen out in public, perhaps it’s worth the trade off.