United Arab Emirates: The Law, the iPhone and Facial Recognition

Last Updated: 19 June 2018
Article by STA Law Firm
Most Read Contributor in United Arab Emirates, September 2019

Mahatma Gandhi said an eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind. Talking about eyes, we have heard that every closed eye is not sleeping and every open sight is not seeing. From eyeglasses to contact lens and from augmented reality to google glass, disruptive technologies continue to emerge and change the way we see things. Even an iPhone for that matter. Why iPhone? You may ask. Recently at the announcement of iPhone X, Apple announced its new Face-ID feature which would allow users to lock and also unlock their phones using the TrueDepth camera. In that sense every open eye is not seeing' may lose its significance. Trying to keep my eyes open as I continue to focus.

Part I of this two series paper seeks to explore the legalities surrounding new disruptive technologies. In particular, this part aims to discuss whether legal developments can keep pace with technological advancements. Uber may have launched their App and raised millions through crowdfunding, but the company has (and; continues to) face legal obstacles. Tesla, bitcoins, Airbnb – the list is endless. You may think why government authorities all across the World are rattling with these firms. Laws and regulations are not just the manifestations of civilized society norms of integrity and justice and a need to safeguard and preserve the common good. Zachary Karabell commented that 'Regulations used to protect and steer the common good are essential, but laws used to stifle innovation are deadly.' Are all laws used to stifle innovation inherently deadly?

If you have managed to keep your eyes open as yet, then continue reading further. This article does not intend to speak about the new iPhone or its benefits. Nor has the author ordered one (as yet!).

They used a phrase 'eye for an eye' and these days we say 'eye for an iPhone.' The importance of an iPhone in this society and most importantly to Apple is not understated. Indeed, the iPhone is the proverbial apple to the consumer's eye. With iPhone being the most successful consumer product of all time, it has generated high revenues for Apple and has made it more of an 'iPhone company.'Technology has a high demand in today's world and has advanced immensely, and the change in the society and the development stage that we have arrived would not have been possible without the help of technology. However, the human society has experienced a considerable extent of development by now that can pose potential threats to our future, and its sustainability remains questionable for many around the world today. It is a result of the wrong use of technology. Nonetheless, advancements in technology have not only helped bring about economic development but also radical changes in cultural and social aspects of society. Therefore, the role of technology has caused a great deal of confusion and flux amongst human society.

It will be unfair to claim that technological advancement has only brought a negative impact on the society with potentially jeopardizing the future. If it were not for this change and improvement in technology through science and innovation, we probably would have still been living in the Stone Age leading a comfort-less life. It is safe to say that technology has changed the way this world works by any means. From a simple home appliance like an air conditioner or a washing machine to discovering life on other planets to being able to reach anywhere in the world in the reasonable span of time in the most comfortable and luxurious airplanes to be able to do anything on a click of a button. Life has indeed become magical in many ways, and it keeps getting better!

What is the Apple Face ID Technology?

These days technology keeps evolving, and with this Steve Jobs, a name every person recognizes and Steve Wozniak co-founded a company called Apple in 1976, which introduced the first hugely successful and mass-produced personal computer; both the Steves are known as pioneers of the microcomputer revolution. Recently, Apple launched a new feature of Face ID feature to replace the existing Touch ID feature in their upcoming mobile phone model: iPhone X.

For introducing the baseline technology, metrics related to human characteristics are known as biometrics. They are automated methods of recognition based on an individual's physiological and behavioral characteristics. The usage of Biometrics authentication is in computer science for identification and access control. Although this technology has been available for several years, with modern advancements in this emerging technology along with a reduction in costs has made it widely available to the people. Some claim that using a unique physical attribute of an individual's body like a fingerprint to prove your identity is considered the most comfortable and safest way in the current world. Secure method of authentication is a desirable feature because your phone is valuable not only due to its cost but also because of the data it contains including photos, contacts, payment details and so on.

The explanation of the technology used in the new feature of the iPhone is that the TrueDepth camera enables the Face ID feature on iPhones and it projects more than 30,000 dark dots that form a precise depth map of your face. The Face ID feature can only be used with iPhone X and unlocks the iPhone only when you're looking at it. Secure Enclave assists in the encryption and protection of the facial map. The verification and authentication take place on the device, not in the cloud.

The Face ID feature is so advanced that it can recognize any changes in your appearances. Any changes like wearing glasses, growing a beard, wearing a hat or wearing wild makeup will not affect the accuracy of the Face ID feature.

Trustworthy or Not?

Timothy Revel in his article describes iPhone X face recognition feature as the quickest and easiest way to unlock your phone. So before one puts their finger for touch identity or entering the passcode, the camera processes your face and grants access. He further states that the technology has not proven itself as yet and that Apples keeps its algorithms under a lock, which means that we don't have a clue as to how well they work.

Currently, the best type of face-recognition algorithm uses deep learning as their artificial intelligence. Companies use the web to gather billions of images to train an algorithm that is inspired by neurons in the brain that is known as a deep neural network. With time the algorithm learns how to recognize the features and relevant images. It learns in practice, so the more variety of model sits views, the more accurately it identifies.

The deep neural network kicks in every time the face appears in front of a camera. There is another trick by which the iPhone X can identify the face accurately, and that is the 3D camera, which helps the algorithm to determine the face regardless of the face alignment. It successfully verifies the face if enough features match. "The chance that a normal person in the population can unlock your iPhone X with their face is one in a million," by Apple's Philip Schiller during a press conference.

From a Legal Perspective

As the technology advances, different interpretations of the law established come forward. From a global perspective, the laws of the United States grant each the right against self-incrimination. This Fifth Amendment clauses outline fundamental constitutional limits on police procedure.

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides, "No man or woman shall be held to answer for a capital, or other crime unless presented by a grand jury. Except in cases arising in the land or naval, or in the militia, when in actual service in the time of war. Also, nor shall a person be subject to same offense twice; now shall he be compelled to a witness in the criminal case against himself. At last, there should be no deprivation of life, liberty, and property without proper law."

What Future has for Us?

The facial recognition tool introduced by Apple will now be used as a security feature to unlock iPhone, but the interesting question is there a real limit on the usage of this tool in the future? At the moment, the data of Face ID is on the phones but that can change in the future, and this will expand the use of Face ID to worrying extents. For example, privacy advocates on Twitter have voiced their concerns about the data of Face ID and its usage for retail surveillance or attention tracking in ads.

However, in the past, Apple has always strengthened its commitment to privacy. Unlike its competitors, Apple has shown no interest in data collection and mass targeting that remains a vital focus of most web companies. Therefore, as the most advanced and ambitious tech company has introduced a 'powerful new toy,' and it would only be considered wise to think about what to expect in the future.


To conclude, it is evident that technology has its pros and cons and the technology is advancing at a breakneck pace with the law finding it challenging to catch the speed. Therefore, to fully benefit from ever-advancing technology societies should be well aware of the legal implication of such.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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