Crackdown on facial recognition on social media

4th Aug 2022

The commercial use of facial recognition technology has caused concern among privacy advocates.

What is facial recognition technology?

Facial recognition technology breaks down the face into micro measurements, such as the distance between the eyes, the nose to the upper lip, lower lip to point of jaw, ears to eyes and so on. These measurements create a digital ‘faceprint’ which is unique to every individual. Once these metric measurements have been taken and recorded, a camera linked to the technology can search a crowd and pick out that face from hundreds of others.

This technology is very useful for police and security authorities and is used in new passports. Access security scans can use it like a fingerprint or eye scan.

Concerns about privacy, safety and inappropriate use of faceprints

Some private companies have stored facial data from police ‘wanted’ posters, online news sources and the publicly available social media posts of unsuspecting people, with a view to selling this data. According to an article in the Washington Post, one US company, Clearview AI, recently claimed that ‘it is on track to have 100 billion facial photos in its database within a year’. Not bad, when the world population is just 7.9 billion.

Individuals who could be endangered by this include children, those escaping domestic violence and victims of crime.

Users of the technology can upload a photo of a person’s face and find other photos of that person, collected from the internet and stored on a database compiled by the tool, which can show where the photos were taken and identify the person. With public access to this technology via a commercial outlet, users could secretly take a picture of a person in the street or on the beach, upload it to the company’s database, and discover their name and private details.

Australian Privacy Commissioner finding on Clearview AI

A commercial company that takes people’s personal data without permission from the internet and links it through such facial recognition technology for profit is in breach of privacy under Australian law.

Australian Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk investigated and found Clearview had breached the Australian Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) by collecting sensitive and personal information by unfair means and without consent.[i] The Commissioner ordered Clearview to stop collecting facial images and biometric templates from individuals in Australia, and to destroy all existing images and templates collected in Australia.

Clearview said it had only limited trials with Australian police and was considering a legal appeal.

The federal government has proposed amendments to privacy legislation, including a binding online privacy code for social media and larger fines for breaches of privacy.

Global concerns about facial recognition

Commercial use of facial recognition technology is being challenged around the world.

In 2021 Facebook shut down its face recognition system and deleted faceprints of more than one billion people after protests about privacy and misuse.[ii]

European regulators have taken steps to limit police scanning faces in public places after false identifications, and Clearview has been barred from operating in several countries.[iii]

Identification of spies and the deceased in war

It has also been reported that the technology can be a weapon of war. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Reuters reported in March that Clearview was being used by Ukrainian officials to identify dead Russian soldiers in order to tell their families what had happened to their loved one. It is also being used by the Ukrainians to identify Russian spies in their ranks. [iv]

This is an edited version of an article first published by Stacks Law Firm.

The ALA thanks Anneka Frayne for this contribution

Anneka Frayne is the Director of Stacks Law Firm in Tamworth, working in family law, wills and estates, and disputes and litigation.



The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).

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[i] Australian Government Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, Clearview AI breached Australians’ privacy (3 November 2021) .

[ii] Facebook, An Update On Our Use of Face Recognition (2 November 20210) .

[iii] European Data Protection Board, Facial recognition: Italian SA fines Clearview AI EUR 20 million (10 March 2022) .

[iv] Reuters, Exclusive: Ukraine has started using Clearview AI’s facial recognition during war (15 March 2022) < https://www.reuters.com/technology/exclusive-ukraine-has-started-using-clearview-ais-facial-recognition-during-war-2022-03-13/>.

Tags: Anneka Frayne faceprints facial recognition technology