Facial recognition software has become increasingly popular in the past several years. It is used everywhere from airports, venues, shopping centers and even by law enforcement. While there are a few potential benefits to using the technology to prevent and solve crimes, there are many concerns about the privacy, safety and legislation regarding the use of the technology.
Facial recognition technology uses a database of photos, such as mugshots and driver’s license photos to identify people in security photos and videos. It uses biometrics to map facial features and help verify identity through key features of the face. The most key feature is the geometry of a face such as the distance between a person’s eyes and the distance from their forehead to their chin. This then creates what is called a “facial signature.” It is a mathematical formula that is then compared to a database of known faces.
The market for this technology is growing exponentially. According to a research report “Facial Recognition Market” by Component, the facial recognition industry is expected to grow $3.2 billion in 2019 to $7.0 billion by 2024 in the U.S. The most significant uses for the technology being for surveillance and marketing. This, however, raises concerns for many people.
The main reason for concerns amongst citizens is the lack of federal regulations surrounding the use of facial recognition technology. Many are worried about how accurate the technology is and if there are biases and misinformation in these technologies. One issue, for example, is that the technology has been proven in multiple studies to be inaccurate at identifying people of color, especially black women.Another major concern is the use of facial recognition for law enforcement purposes. Today, many police departments in the U.S., including New York City, Chicago, Detroit and Orlando, have begun utilizing the technology. According to a May 2018 report, the FBI has access to 412 million facial images for searches.
Not only is this a concern with the possibility of misidentifying someone and leading to wrongful convictions, it can also be very damaging to our society by being abused by law enforcement for things like constant surveillance of the public. Currently, the Chinese government is already using facial recognition to arrest jaywalkers and other petty crimes that cause debate amongst what is considered basic civil rights and privacy issues versus protecting the public. Accuracy and accountability are necessary when it comes to the use of technology, especially regarding the justice system.
The concerns have not gone unnoticed by politicians and many cities have started to create legislation around these issues. Oregon and New Hampshire have banned the use of facial recognition in body cameras for police officers. California cities, such as San Francisco and Oakland, and some cities in Massachusetts have outlawed certain uses of facial recognition technology for city officials including law enforcement.
The Utah Department of Public Safety has also put forth some bans on the use of facial recognition for active criminal cases. Law enforcement in Utah claim that the use of facial recognition software helps keep dangerous criminals off the streets, but advocates say that there is no checks and balances when it comes to the system. Recent pushes from Portland, Oregon show that they are soon to follow suit.
The latest legislation push to put limitations on facial recognition technology is a California bill, AB 1215, also referred to as the Body Camera Accountability Act. This bill will temporarily stop California law enforcement from adding face and other biometric surveillance technology to officer-worn body cameras for use against the public in California.
According to the ACLU of Southern California, “AB 1215 is a common-sense bill that rightly concludes that keeping our communities safe doesn’t have to come at the expense of our fundamental freedoms. We should all be able to safely live our lives without being watched and targeted by the government.”
Governor Gavin Newsom must decide whether or not to sign it into law by October 13. If he does, it will go into effect in January.
Law enforcement isn’t the only issue with the technology that is of concern. U.S. Customs and Border Protection in partnership with Delta have added facial scanning to the Atlanta airport’s Concourse E, its Detroit hub, boarding gates in Minneapolis and Salt Lake City, and this month to Los Angeles International Airport. The use of this technology causes concerns about how much people are being watched and if hackers can access this data causing more harm than good.
An activist group called Fight for the Future said facial recognition is an invasive technology that can be used for surveillance.
“Facial recognition really doesn’t have a place in society,” said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future. “It’s deeply invasive, and from our perspective, the potential harm to society and human liberties far outweigh the potential benefits.”
With the vast number of concerns and privacy issues surrounding facial recognition software and its use, cities around the U.S. will face more dilemmas as they attempt to tackle these issues. AI and facial recognition technology are only growing and they can be powerful and helpful tools when used correctly, but can also cause harm with privacy and security issues. Lawmakers will have to balance this and determine when and how facial technology will be utilized and monitor the use, or in some cases abuse, of the technology.
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