We’ve been drawing more attention to digital security and privacy as of late, largely due to our upcoming digital security guide, which will become available in about a week. The inspiration for the guide was born from the need for a basic repository of easy-to-implement digital security hygiene practices that end-users (all of us with devices) could employ in order to better secure their digital security and privacy. And due to the complexity and depth of some of these topics, more space and time is needed to go beyond the guide.

To be clear, this is not some random bandwagon we’ve jumped on simply due to the rise of connected devices or because we’re scared of mass surveillance. The ability to maintain digital security and privacy in an environment that profits from the sale of your data is critical. The ability to understand and reasonably function in this environment is equally as critical — not just for individual citizens but for military and intelligence professionals as well.

This criticality drives our emphasis to share what we can of the topic and to increase readers’ awareness and familiarity with common practices. That is what we’re discussing today in the context of facial recognition software and surveillance and how they can be used to great effect.

Smile, you’re on camera

We recently introduced the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s facial recognition resource to you, which provides a quick quiz listing the number of facial recognition databases in which one’s data may be present.

SOFREP recently obtained some basic data from Surfshark, a virtual private network provider. Surfshark conducted a study to map the use of facial recognition software in 194 countries and territories around the world. The data — which SOFREP has not independently verified — was derived from research conducted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and AlgorithmWatch. Our intent in sharing this data is to provide a generalized understanding of facial recognition use worldwide.

According to available data, common uses for facial recognition software largely concern law enforcement or security service activities. Specifically, facial recognition software has been employed in public closed-circuit television (CCTV) networks; has been maintained in internal law enforcement databases; and is used to augment identity verification processes during elections or when traveling.

There is no question that facial recognition is valuable under the right circumstances. Facial recognition technologies are a natural evolution of already-present surveillance tools and techniques. For example, CCTV has long proved valuable in reconstructing criminal activity and aided in more rapidly bringing closure to victims’ families. It has also been used to piece together otherwise secret intelligence operations conducted by highly trained operatives — but we’ll get to that shortly.