Biometrics pioneer now “wary” of monster he has created

Dr Joseph Atick, a pioneer in biometrics, who co-founded early facial recognition companies such as Visionics, now fears that large companies could use new versions of his technologies for electronic surveillance – and warned of “unexpected consequences” unless the industry changed its habits.

Speaking at the Connext ID Explo, Atick, who founded several companies instrumental in turning biometrics into a $7.2 billion per year industry (figure from analysts Frost and Sullivan) said that the tecchnology has evolved so far it is now “basically robbing everyone of their anonymity,” according to the New York Times.

Speaking about a demonstration app for Google Glass which allowed users to identify people by looking at them, known as Nametag, Atick said, “We are basically allowing our fellow citizens to surveil us.”

Atick, who has served as a technical advisor to NATO, made millions from selling one of his companies, L-1 to a French military contractor. The Verge reports that he said, “Some people believe that I am maybe inhibiting the industry from growing. I disagree. I am helping industry make difficult choices, but the right choices.”

Concern has grown over companies’ such as Facebook’s use of biometric data. Facebook has invested heavily in artificial intelligence software – which can recognize if two human faces are the same person with near-human accuracy.

Atick warned that the widespread use of fingerprint and facial recognition systems could lead to uncontrollled surveillance – not only by companies and ‘data brokers’, but also goverments. “I think that the industry has to own up  If we do not step up to the plate and accept responsibility, there could be unexpected apps and consequences,” he said.

One AI company, Vicarious Software, bought by Facebook, whose software specialises in “deciphering” photographs, described its software as “like a human that doesn’t have to eat or sleep.”

For users, biometric protection has become a premium feature, available on the most expensive gadgets – for instance, iPhone’s 5S and Samsung’s Galaxy S5. Speaking to We Live Security, Phil Zimmermann, inventor of email encryption system PGP, whose company is to sell an encrypted voice phone, Blackphone, this year, said, “We are in the golden age of surveillance. Whoever wants it can enjoy total information awareness – from cameras which read number plates automatically, to who calls who, and what they say. If a politician is seen in a hotel with an attractive woman, facial recognition can pick him out.”

Further We Live Security reports relating to biometrics and wider privacy issues can be found here.

 

Author Rob Waugh, We Live Security

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