Not just a face in the crowd: addressing the intrusive potential of the online application of face recognition technologies

Niloufer Selvadurai*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


The widespread practice of uploading photographs onto Internet social networking and business sites has converged with advances in face recognition technologies to create a situation where an individual can no longer be just a face in the crowd. Despite the intrusive potential of face recognition technologies, the unauthorized application of such technologies to online digital images so as to obtain identity information is neither prohibited nor part of the international law reform discourse. The purpose of this article is to consider the merits of enacting specific laws to address this problem, and to present recommendations as to the ambit and operation of such laws. As privacy is the primary public interest upon which such laws could be based, the article considers the need to reformulate the concept of privacy so as to address the characteristics of the digital environment. The changed online relationship between the observer and the observed, altered societal norms as to online privacy and the merits of seeking to support anonymity rather than control of information in the digital realm are integrated into this analysis. Further, existing laws prohibiting unauthorized interception and access of data and text are examined for the purpose of providing guidance as to the appropriate design of future laws protecting visual images. The article concludes by recommending the enactment of criminal laws prohibiting the unauthorized application of face recognition technologies to online visual images subject to enumerated exceptions that balance privacy against countervailing public interests such as law enforcement and national security.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-218
Number of pages32
JournalInternational Journal of Law and Information Technology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Face recognition technologies
  • Internet law
  • Privacy law
  • Social media governance
  • Telecommunications interception and access law


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