Eyes and Security Issues for Digital Photos

Schematic for Corneal Reflections

Corneal Reflections

It’s a potentially great crime-fighting tool for the future: a criminal’s image could be recognized in the mirror of someone’s cornea in a digital photo. Because of the eye’s curve, even peripheral vision is reflected in the cornea. After reading Eye reflections in photos could help solve crimes, researchers say, I thought about security and privacy issues that this new technology raises for missions in the future.

According to the Fox News article:

“The pupil of the eye is like a black mirror,” said Rob Jenkins, of the Department of Psychology at the University of York. “To enhance the image, you have to zoom in and adjust the contrast. A face image that is recovered from a reflection in the subject’s eye is about 30,000 times smaller than the subject’s face.”

Working with Christie Kerr, of the School of Psychology, University of Glasgow, Jenkins recovered the images of bystanders that were as small as 27 pixels across (1 megapixel is about a million pixels). Yet when presented to panelists in a face-matching task, observers were able to match the diminutive faces 71 percent of the time. When the faces were familiar ones, people recognized identity correctly 84 percent of the time.

“Our findings thus highlight the remarkable robustness of human face recognition, as well as the untapped potential of high-resolution photography,” Jenkins said.

Okay, now, don’t panic.  This is new technology and no government or police or military body is using it yet. I can’t predict if or when they will, but this new technology, once implemented, can be used on your current digital photo and video collection.

Geotagging and Security

If you haven’t read this previous article, Be Smart about Smartphone Pictures and Security, you should also be aware of geotagging features on digital images. This would be true for anyone, not just missionaries in secure locations, so I highly recommend you understand that your photos may be geotagged as well. For instance, your photo of your expensive item you’re selling on eBay or Craigslist could be traced to your home. (Read the article for this, and other, security issues with geotagging.)

What Will You Do?

If you’re a missionary who works or travels to areas of the world where security is an issue, you should think about both what or who is reflected in the eyes in a digital photo or video as well as if the geotagging information pinpoints where the photo was taken.

How do you store your images on your computer or mobile device? Have you considered encrypting photos? Do you leave images on your phone? Are you also careful about photos that you publish online on websites and in social media?

What actions are you going to take to secure  your photos and videos?

UPDATE (01/04/2014): Because of Curt Fenz’s helpful comment, I’ll post again with further thoughts on this (See Eyes and Digital Security, Part Two.)


  • This post is part of the Love Your Phone series for phones and tablets.
  • The schematic is taken from the researchers’ abstract published by the Public Library of Science. Because the faces of real individuals were used in the study, I didn’t feel I had the freedom (due to privacy laws) to use those photos. Hop on over to the abstract to see how recognizable faces are when reflected in the eyes.
  • How to Encrypt Images Using InfoLock

2 thoughts on “Eyes and Security Issues for Digital Photos

  1. One Simple solution is not to put 16 gig photos on the web . . when you upload134k or 7k photos they will look fine and have Nobody in the eyeballs.

    Try this out: Just take a photo you have, and expand it on a good monitor . . My cameras aren’t sharp enough to produce an image in an eyeball in perfect lighting conditions.


What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.