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Consider this: Emerging facial recognition software requires ethical checks and balances

A man uses a portable iris recognition scanner during the Biometrics 2004 exhibition and conference in London.

Ian Waldie/Getty Images/Ian Waldie/Getty Images

Facial-recognition software is creeping into our lives. So before it even emerges, let's shut down the marketplace for our computerized personas. And let's make sure this software becomes a tool of last resort for law enforcement.

Whenever we smile into a friend's cellphone, walk by a camera stealthily affixed above a bank machine or give that neutral stare at a government counter to get an ID, we are offering up our bits and bytes, one more potential addition to a large institutional database.

In a few cases - a police investigation in which the only clue comes from a security camera - using software to determine someone's identity can make sense. But it can help police fish for criminals, when the police should be hunting criminals down. Online, it can be used to identify you, even if you seek anonymity.

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Our faces are integral to our identity - they are who we are, in a way that a social-insurance number will never be. The law doesn't treat facial data any differently from other personal data, but it should start doing so. A ban on the sale or trade of the data that comes from facial-recognition software and more controls on its use - disclosure that it is being used; quick disposal of information collected by machines that have it - would be a good start. Otherwise, we cede more ground in the struggle to preserve our identities in an era where they are increasingly, perpetually, in public view.

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