College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Computer Science Academic Features in Facial Recognition Tech Discussion

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Senior Lecturer in the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science, Dr Brett van Niekerk was a member of a live online panel which discussed: The Future of Facial Recognition Tech in Africa.

Hosted by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), the panel was chaired by Senior ISS Research Advisor for Emerging Threats in Africa Ms Karen Allen; CEO of iiDENTIFii Mr Gur Geva, and Criminologist and AI consultant Ms Renee Cummings of the United States.

The discussion took place in the light of knowledge that facial recognition can be used for access control, but also by law enforcement to identify individuals. The reality is that this raises privacy concerns of being tracked as well as concerns over accuracy where the wrong person could be arrested due to a misidentification by the technology. Due to the very nature of the technology, the data used is of a highly personal nature.

In a South African context, additional clauses of the Protection of Personal Information Act began on 1 July, requiring that any facial recognition system – in particular the data used – must be extremely secure.

The focus of van Niekerk’s input on the panel was on securing the technology. ‘Often new technologies are connected to an organisational network, or even the Internet, with little thought or understanding of the security implications,’ said van Niekerk.

‘There have been cases where CCTV systems have been “hacked”, sometimes for surveillance, and other times as a launching point for a cyber-attack. If a facial recognition system is compromised, it could have similar consequences, or the data could be stolen for criminals to use for identity theft. It is therefore important that security best practices are implemented to protect the technology to reduce the risk of it being compromised, and limit the impact to the organisation if it does get “hacked”,’ he said.

The ISS is a non-profit organisation with offices in South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia and Senegal. Its work focuses on the analysis of conflict and governance, peacekeeping and peace building, crime prevention, criminal justice and transnational crimes, as well as maritime security and development.

Van Niekerk, an Honorary Research Fellow at UKZN from July 2014 to when he joined UKZN in a permanent capacity in December 2017, currently lectures the Honours Network Security module as well as modules from first and second-year.

His research interests include national and international cybersecurity and privacy and cybersecurity in Higher Education. He is the co-editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Cyber Warfare and Terrorism and associate editor for the International Journal of Information Security and Privacy.

Words: NdabaOnline

Photograph: Supplied