“Juggalo” Makeup Fools Facial Recognition Tech in Biometrics Setback

two-tone face paint obscures facial features from scanning

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

Contrasting black-and-white clown makeup outsmarts facial recognition technology, Consequence of Sound reported. The two-tone face paint was popularized by “Juggalos,” or fans of the rap duo Insane Clown Posse. Facial scanning and other biometrics are still works in progress.

Facial recognition system with woman
As biometrics technology continually advances, two-tone clown makeup has stumped facial recognition software. Photo by Metamorworks / Shutterstock

According to the Consequence of Sound article, most facial recognition programs “identify areas of contrast—like those around the eyes, nose, and chin—and then compare those points to images in a database.” However, the highly contrasting and face-concealing black-and-white makeup worn by Juggalos may be hindering their ability to do so, since it obscures those parts of the face. This result serves as a reminder that although biometrics technology has been on the rise in the 21st century, it still faces many hurdles.

The Push for Biometrics

When and why did we get so interested in biometric identification? “The problem came into stark highlight after the September 11 attacks,” said Professor Paul Rosenzweig, Professorial Lecturer in Law at The George Washington University Law School. “The government’s comprehensive review identified a number of gaps in America’s security architecture, including our ability to know who was who—the Florida driver’s license picture of Mohamed Atta has become an iconic symbol of the insecurity of our identification apparatus. Misidentification is a critical and endemic problem, and that’s why biometrics are so important.”

In other words, terrorist attacks like 9/11 have suggested a need to identify someone on more certain terms than a government-issued ID. Biometrics is the most irrefutable, if sometimes controversial, way to do so. “In a post-9/11 world, we want to link the biographic information we have available to us, about risks associated with an individual, to a verifiable biometric characteristic,” Professor Rosenzweig said. “That is, a physical characteristic that is impossible to change. In every walk of life, as a basic building block of risk assessment, we think it’s imperative that we have confidence that people are who they say they are.”

Biometric identification actually began in the early 20th century with fingerprinting, which seems normal enough by today’s standards. However, biometrics are moving on in today’s world to iris scanning, voice recognition, hand geometry, and facial scanning.

Pros and Cons of Facial Recognition

“Facial recognition technology identifies individuals by analyzing certain features of their face—it may look at the nose width, or the eye sockets, or the mouth,” Professor Rosenzweig said. “Typically, facial recognition compares a live person with a template, but it’s also been used for comparison between photographs and templates.” Smartphones currently offer facial recognition through their front-facing cameras as a way of unlocking them. Users scan their face during the phone’s setup and whenever they want to use their phone, they simply look at it and it unlocks.

However, this technology raises ethics and privacy concerns. “Facial recognition is the biometric system that can best be routinely used covertly, since a person’s face can often be captured by video technology,” Professor Rosenzweig said. “In other words, you may never know if a photo is being taken of you and compared to some database. And it works—DeepFace, the facial recognition technology developed by Facebook, is said to be 97 percent accurate, making it competitive with human-distinguishing capabilities.”

If biometric identification sounds a little too dystopian for you, you’re not alone. Public debate rages on about how and where your biometric data may be kept on file, which biometrics can be taken without your consent, and the security that will keep your information private. It may be several more years before the technology fully develops and those questions are answered, but for now, there’s always the Juggalos.

Paul Rosenzweig, J.D., contributed to this article. Mr. Rosenzweig is a Professorial Lecturer in Law at The George Washington University Law School

Paul Rosenzweig, J.D., contributed to this article. Professor Rosenzweig is a Professorial Lecturer in Law at The George Washington University Law School. He earned his J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School and then served as a law clerk to the Honorable R. Lanier Anderson, III of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.