Facial Recognition - Future of Law Enforcement or More of the Same?

Industry giants including IBM, Amazon, and Microsoft have cooled off on their pursuit of facial recognition technology after the Justice of Policing Act of 2020 was introduced to Congress on June 8th, 2020. If passed, the bill would restrict the way police utilize facial recognition technology.

Until recently, all three corporations have been developing facial recognition technology with multiple intended uses. Most notably, products were marketed to police and other law enforcement to aid in the identification of suspects through mugshots and publically available photos. The companies have committed to actions ranging from IBM completely discontinuing its facial recognition products completely to Microsoft holding off on offering these products to police until governing legislation is passed.

The ethics of such technology has been drawing questions as skewed datasets limit the efficacy rates for ethnically diverse subsets of the population. According to a recent study conducted by National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), false positive rates (the erroneous association of samples of two persons) are highest in West and East African and East Asian people, and lowest in Eastern European individuals. In other words, the technology is more effective in identifying differences in facial features for Caucasians than it is for people of color.

In addition to the efficacy issues of the technology, the use of facial recognition is no stranger to controversy in use. In 2016, Baltimore City Police used the technology to identify persons present for the protest in the Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray. The identified individuals were then targeted for arrest for unrelated causes following the protests.

As the conversation continues to evolve in how society and law enforcement operates, this is an important time to step back and think. We must reevaluate the path we are heading down with facial recognition and must establish standards for its use. What are your thoughts?

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