SALT LAKE CITY – Moshe Greenshpan insists that the first church came to him.

It was not proposed to bring facial recognition software to sacred spaces. But when a potential customer called, how could I say no?

“In a short period of time, we received about 10 different requests from churches around the world asking us to provide them with an efficient tool to track member attendance,” said Greenshpan, CEO of Face Six, a software company. of facial recognition based in Israel that markets products to churches through its Churchix division.


“It is comforting to know that our (heavenly) Father is watching, but it is not so comforting to know that the older brother is watching.” —Russell Moore

And then his company responded, equipping the houses of worship with software that captures and organizes images of anyone on church property. He estimates that Churchix has worked with more than 200 churches to date. About half are in the United States.

“The churches want to see who is coming and who is leaving. I think some use (the software) for security purposes, ”said Greenshpan.

Although most religious leaders share these goals of tracking assistance and monitoring security threats, some oppose Churchix’s high-tech approach. Facial recognition software can increase convenience and efficiency, but it also has unwanted consequences, said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Freedom Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

“It is comforting to know that our (heavenly) Father is watching, but it is not so comforting to know that the elder brother is watching,” he said.

Privacy Debate

Facial recognition software offers many benefits to the churches that use it. The technology produces immaculate attendance records. Security threats can be tracked carefully.

“If you see a suspicious guy (in the recording), you can click on his face and give him a temporary name like” Suspect # 1, “Greenshpan said. “Every time your software identifies a person from your watchlist, the software triggers an alert.”

But the software installation also pushes the churches to one of the biggest privacy debates of today. Across the country, policy makers and civil rights organizations are struggling to regulate where facial recognition software can be used and under what conditions law enforcement agencies can access it.

“We are in a new era where your face is potentially captured in a variety of places … and you become part of a police lineup of police shots,” said Marina Lowe, legislative and political adviser to the ACLU of Utah .

If you have never committed a crime, that may not seem like a big problem. However, facial recognition technology leaves room for human error, and government use can lead to unfounded arrests and other forms of injustice, Lowe said.

“It would be an affront to our privacy to be subject to a search when there is no reasonable suspicion or probable cause. The same should be said of scanning our face,” he said.

Since churches are private organizations, law enforcement would not have automatic access to their saved images. But only the existence of such files is enough to worry Moore, who has studied the use of facial recognition software under authoritarian regimes.

“There are so many potentials for abuse with facial recognition technology,” he said.

For example, in China, the government uses artificial intelligence to track how often citizens attend church. Participation in a community of faith is considered a potential threat to someone’s loyalty to the state, and regular parishioners in China may face consequences at work or school.

“You don’t have to imagine the dystopia that could arise. You could get on a plane and go see it,” Moore said.

Additional risks

The United States is much more committed to religious freedom than China, so US officials are unlikely to use facial recognition software in churches in the same way. However, installing high-tech cameras over the door of the sanctuary still carries risks, Moore said.

For example, facial recognition software could change the image of a church, making it look more like a cold and depersonalized space than a place of refuge, he said.

It’s not bad for churches to track who comes and goes, “but facial recognition technology seems to be a creepy way to do it,” Moore said.

Overall, surveillance technology alters people’s natural habits, putting them to the limit, Lowe said.

“People’s behavior changes when they feel they are being watched,” he said. “It changes our ability to feel that we are free.”

Church members may be less likely to communicate with each other if they know that a computer is monitoring who appears on each service, Moore said. Someone concerned about your privacy may stop attending church altogether.

Instead of using facial recognition technology, “I think we should go in the other direction and really know each other within our congregations well enough to know when someone is missing,” Moore said.

Greenshpan said privacy concerns are exaggerated. Churches regularly publish photo directories of their members, and using cameras to track attendance is not much different from that, he said.

“People don’t really understand what they are afraid of,” he said.

Moore admitted that he could be exaggerating, as he is just beginning to think about what the future might hold. However, he said that it is good to err on the side of caution, especially when it comes to invasive technology.

“Technology is advancing rapidly, often in really useful ways. But we should think about where it will ultimately lead, ”said Moore. “There is a lot at stake when it comes to the church.”

It will be up to religious communities to lead ethical reflection, as companies like Churchix have no plans to reduce speed.

“Our vision is to allow anyone with a camera to use facial recognition,” Greenshpan said.

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