Are privacy concerns stifling innovation in security?
26 Oct 2020
Facial recognition is the latest technology to be targeted because of concerns about privacy. If such concerns cloud the public perception, they can be harmful to technology markets. Whether the concerns are genuine or based on misinformation is often beside the point; the practical damage has already been done. But beyond market demand, what is the impact of privacy concerns on technology innovation? We asked this week’s Expert Panel Roundtable: Are privacy concerns stifling innovation in security and related markets?
I do not believe privacy concerns are stifling innovation; people, dynamic organisations and market disruptors will always strive to develop new technologies and solutions – this is evolution. Privacy concerns and discussions regarding legislation usually follow the innovation and often arise out of lack of information. When deploying new technology, it is important to be clear about what it does, how it is used, and whether any personal information is retained, and if yes, why and for how long. New technologies such as facial recognition have re-ignited the privacy debate. However, this is the same debate that has continued since surveillance systems first started to be deployed decades ago and yet tremendous innovations have taken place during that time. In most parts of the world, clear signage advises you that you are in a surveillance zone and most people understand that also involves the recording and retention of video.
Rather than stifling innovation in security, I would argue that privacy concerns are driving it and inculcating a necessary awareness of ethical practices in our industry. There is a train of thought that if you have nothing to hide, you should not be concerned if your privacy is eroded. This makes sense on the surface (especially when you consider the basic CCTV systems of a few years ago), but with the advent of AI and facial detection. there are fresh and unsettling potential opportunities for misuse. For example, these systems could be (and have been) used for ethnicity detection as part of a suppression of ethnic minorities. Whilst the technology itself has no inherently sinister purpose, it could be corrupted by regimes that do not use it ethically and responsibly. As security providers we have a duty to ensure that the human right to privacy is respected and not ignored.
On the contrary, I believe that privacy concerns are helping to drive innovation. As sensors gather more data, privacy concerns are understandably increasing. To address this, manufacturers need to implement transparency and accountability features. For example, Hanwha Techwin’s Wave VMS supports audit trails that show when people log on to the system and what videos they view. This provides a way to “watch the watchers” and helps insure against breaches of privacy. Many innovations are a result of utilising a privacy-by-design approach. This approach, along with numerous cybersecurity innovations, has made the devices more secure and transparent by default. The principle of least privilege (PoLP) is an innovative way to approach user access rights for operators. This principle states that each user should only have access to the information required for their role. It is crucial that manufacturers enable end-users and integrators to easily configure systems with privacy in mind.
It’s critical that any security installation addresses privacy as a core part of the design. As cameras become increasingly powerful and feature-rich, their ability to capture personal identifying information (PII) continues to grow. Every organisation needs to ensure that PII is handled in accordance with local laws and that any security system deployed is flexible enough to adapt and evolve as laws and best practices will almost certainly change over time. Privacy-by-design is the approach any manufacturer or integrator must take, in which privacy features and functionality are built into the core design from inception and not simply an afterthought. These features should enable end-users to easily conform to best practices and mandates. Employees should be able to opt-in for touchless access, cameras should be able to mask out off-limit areas, and operator rights and privileges should ensure that only people who are authorized have access.
Privacy concerns may impact public perception of a certain technology, but our Expert Roundtable Panelists agree that they do not negatively impact innovation in the security market. To the contrary, ensuring privacy can sometimes drive innovation as companies seek to design products that both perform the needed functionality and do so in a way that is acceptable to privacy advocates. In any case, consideration of privacy is a core concept for security and should be incorporated as part of a product’s design.
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