Update on facial recognition technology with 5G – as Boston votes to ban government use of facial recognition

This audio was created using Microsoft Azure Speech Services

It’s been a year since I wrote the blog Facial Recognition Gains Attention and Requires New Tech with 5G, and I stated that “one of the main arguments against facial recognition in San Francisco is the technical accuracy of the systems.”

And, boy did I get some heavy criticism and spirited responses (people yelling and swearing at me) from executives at facial recognition companies!

In the blog, I referenced George Orwell’s 1984 and how it warned of a dystopian future where the authoritarian “Big Brother” regime monitors its citizens through television-like “telescreens.” But the main gist of my blog was that camera technology and software had advanced, but they still needed a superfast network and image library close by, however we as a society have not overcome privacy concerns.

In the blog, I wrote, “The maturity of the digital camera technology has been a catalyst to the emergence of facial recognition technology, but is stressing the data transfer network, as well as data storage. These stored images can be as large as 200MB to 1GB, so the network must be fast, and the image located in close proximity – essentially the definition of 5G. But concerns over privacy seem to be growing all over the world.”

Boston bans facial recognition

In the blog, I mentioned that Schneider Electric had kicked off a collaboration with IBM to deliver prepacked facial recognition reference designs that included facial recognition software, servers, cameras, enclosure, UPS, cooling and management software. However, shortly after writing it, IBM disbanded the group we were working with and recently put out this statement:

“IBM firmly opposes and will not condone uses of any technology, including facial recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms, or any purpose which is not consistent with our values and principles of trust and transparency,” wrote CEO Arvind Krishna.

And now Boston has joined cities like San Francisco, Oakland, Cal., and nearby Cambridge, Mass., to ban facial recognition technology for municipal use. Boston is the second largest city in the United States to ban facial recognition, after San Francisco enacted its ban in May 2019.

“Boston should not be using racially discriminatory technology and technology that threatens our basic rights,” City Councilor Michelle Wu said. City employees can still use facial recognition for authentication purposes, such as unlocking their own devices.

Could better technology address this concern?

So, the question I have is: Would there be this much backlash, with the expectation of more very soon, if the technology worked better? With 5G as an enabler perhaps? We will know when Ultra Reliable Low Latency (URLLC) mmWave 5G is rolled out at scale. We are not talking about the low bandwidth 5G for mobile with similar performance to 4G.

But mmWave 5G is caught in massive delays driven mainly by the COVID 19 pandemic. The 3GPP standards group is not able to meet in person to finish R16, the 5G standard. The focus has turned to building out much more 4G capacity to support the at-home workforce. Government agencies that need to collaborate with 5G carriers to authorize installations have been focused on other priorities.

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