Japan’s “Privacy Visor” Thwarts Facial Recognition Technology

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Japan’s “Privacy Visor” Thwarts Facial Recognition Technology

POSTED:  August 17, 2015

Japan has worked for years to create a pair of glasses that will shield the wearer from discovery on facial recognition software. The first iteration of the “privacy visor” used near-infrared lights, which are visible to cameras but not humans. [1] The new rendition of the facial unrecognition glasses does not use infrared lights but reflects overhead lights into the camera lens. [2]

Facial recognition software identifies landmarks, such as nostrils, nose, and cheekbones, and “matches” them to images in an existing database. [3] The National Institute of Informatics, a Japanese government-affiliated institute, prevents recognition systems from focusing in on a human face by distorting how these facial landmarks appear in a photograph. [4] The glasses reflect light, which is caused by varying angles and patterns on the lens, tricks facial recognition systems by making the area around the eyes look brighter than it typically is. [3, 4]

“The Privacy Visor is the world’s first product with this technology,” said Isao Echizen, the institute’s professor. “We are often told not to unveil our personal information to others, but our faces are also a type of an ID. There should be a way to protect that.” [4] Japan expects to commercialize the glasses by June 2016.

Facial recognition systems are not new, and neither is the concept of thwarting them. Photos are collected and analyzed in real-time, both by private corporations using images of private citizens and the military seeking to identify terrorists. Even Facebook is diving into facial recognition research with the development of DeepFace, a technology that is as accurate as a human in facial recognition. [5]

In addition to the Japanese glasses designs, Amsterdam’s AVG Innovation Labs are researching ways to enhance privacy. [6] The laboratory combined infrared lights with reflective material to create “Invisibility Glasses.” AVG is also exploring using projected infra-red patterns or makeup to shield the subject’s face from the facial recognition software. [6]

While use of privacy glasses may prevent automatic identification on social media or other photographs, the technology may also impede security investigations. For years, military and intelligence agencies, have identified potential terrorists using facial recognition technology. These new privacy glasses may prevent individual identification through security cameras or connecting an image to a criminal database.

The Department of Defense recognizes the importance of biometrics in securing national security interests and the role in empowering the warfighter. Both in wartime and in peacetime, the military utilizes biometrics to improve access control. Improving the effectiveness of the accurate identification of authorized users can be seen as a means of enhancing security for all military activities. “In wartime, the [military’s] dependence on information as a tactical and strategic asset requires it to carefully control its battlefield networks. From information on logistics flows to intelligence on enemy forces, the [military] depends on confining access to its data to authorized personnel.” [7]

Facial recognition is not the only method of identification used to identify terrorists; the military uses many biometric modalities for identification. The Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Department of Defense recently collaborated on a Biometric Technology Center. The goal is to advance research and technology in “iris recognition, voice patterns, facial patterns, and palm prints.” [8]

As products with the goal to prevent detection in the digital age become more popular, researchers will need to consider their use in developing technologies and regulations will be needed.

“For example, facial recognition is used in security cameras at airports for identifying terrorists,” Echizen says. “In such places, institutional measures such as not allowing the visor to be worn will be necessary. It is important to achieve a good balance between public interest and
protection of privacy.” [9]


[1] Ferro, Shaunacy. (2013, January 23). “Privacy Visor” Protects You From Facial Recognition Machines. PopSci.
[2] Hornyak, Tim. (2015, August 11). How Japan’s Privacy Visor fools face-recognition cameras. International Data Group News Service.
[3] Higginbotham, Stacey. (2015, June 23). Facial recognition freak out: what the technology can and can’t do. Fortune.
[4] Hongo, Jun. (2015, August 7). Eyeglasses with Face Un-Recognition Function to Debut in Japan. The Wall Street Journal. Japan RealTime.
[5] Bohannon, John. (2015, February 5). Facebook will soon be able to ID you in any photo. Science.
[6] Ali, Tanweer. (2015, March 2) Protecting your visual identity in the digital age. Innovation Labs by AVG.
[7] Woodward, John. Army Biometric Applications: Identifying and Addressing Sociocultural Concerns.
[8] Federal Bureau of Investigations. (2015, August 12). New FBI-DOD Biometric Center Will Help Combat Threat of Terrorism. News Blog.
[9] NII Special. Get Control of Personal Data Back in Our Hands.

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