Law enforcement variants of augmented reality may dramatically change the interaction between police officers and citizens. The civil liberties we enjoy today, such as freedom of speech and protection against self-incrimination, will certainly be affected by impending augmented reality technology. What might be relatively private today (such as our identity, current location, or recent activity) will be much more difficult to keep private in a world filled with devices like Google Glasses.
A key enabler of future augmented reality systems is facial recognition. Currently, facial recognition technology is in a developmental stage, and only established at national borders or other areas of high security. Ralph Gross, a researcher at the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute, claims that current facial recognition technology is becoming more capable of recognizing frontal faces, but struggles with profile recognition. Current technology also has problems recognizing faces in poor lighting and low resolution.
We anticipate significant advances during the next decade. Law enforcement agencies, like the police department in Tampa, Florida, have tested facial recognition monitors in areas with higher crime rates, with limited success. The primary cause behind these failures has been the inability to capture a frontal, well lit, high resolution image of the subject. This obstacle blocking effective facial recognition would be quickly removed in a world where augmented reality glasses are common and facial images are constantly being captured in everyday interactions.
While facial recognition via augmented reality (through glasses or mobile devices) might seem harmless at first glance, a deeper look into this new technology reveals important unintended consequences. For example, a new form of profiling may emerge as a police officer wearing augmented reality glasses might recognize individuals with prior criminal records for which the subjects have already served their time. Without augmented reality, that police officer would have likely never recognized the offenders or known of their crimes. Of course augmented reality may be very beneficial to law enforcement activities, but raises serious questions about due process, civil liberties, and privacy. The end result may be a chilling effect on the population as a whole, both guilty and innocent.
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