Government use of facial recognition


As technology advances, the use of facial recognition software is being implemented in many new ways, often by government agencies, for security reasons. The Transportation Security Administration is testing the software at more than a dozen US airports, praising the system’s security features and calling on politicians to phase out facial scanners. Facial recognition scanners have also been used at concerts and venues like Madison Square Garden, with both positive and negative results.

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As security applications of facial recognition software continue to evolve, the technology has reportedly been used in more malicious situations. According to a report in The Washington Post, dozens of local governments are “installing facial recognition cameras in low-income homes, where many of the 1.6 million Americans who live there are buying.”, In Scott County, Virginia, the Post reports that facial recognition cameras “scan everyone who walks by” looking for people barred from public housing. In addition to previous years, we’ve also seen reports of immigration agents using facial recognition through state driver’s license databases and like Amazon. Private companies are involved in the process.

Controversies surrounding facial recognition are not new. However, there is no federal law governing the technology, so for now, its use by government agencies is legal. But should it be? Is it time for Congress to pass a law banning government facial recognition? Or is it a sign of technological progress that software should be allowed to integrate into people’s lives?

What are commenters saying?

Some in government may not even understand how artificial intelligence, including facial recognition, works, Rep. Jay Obernolte (R-Calif.), who has a master’s degree in AI, told the New York Times. “You’d be surprised how much time I’ve spent explaining to my colleagues that the main dangers of AI don’t come from evil robots with red lasers in their eyes,” Obernot said. For those familiar with the technology, the issue “doesn’t seem urgent to members,” Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) told the Times.

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As a result, the government’s continued use of facial recognition software “raises serious privacy and fairness issues,” Olga Axelrod and Jay Stanley wrote for the ACLU. Governments tend to outsource the implementation of facial recognition to private tech companies, he added, “without any checks and balances that apply to the government, such as public records laws or privacy laws that apply specifically to government agencies.” In addition, the government may face the potential corruption of the technology to address racial disparities, and “similar questions should be asked about facial recognition algorithms by the police and other public institutions,” Fraser Sampson wrote for Tech Monitor. “There are valid questions about the accuracy of facial recognition algorithms in identifying faces in a crowd,” Sampson said.

These implicit biases are rooted in the history of racially-based surveillance in the US and the “abuse of current facial-recognition technologies … often reflect existing societal biases and build on vicious and virtuous cycles,” Kathleen Chin and Nicole Turner Lee reported for the Brookings Institution. Facial recognition technologies “also allow for more accurate discrimination, especially as law enforcement agencies continue to misinform, predictive decisions around arrests and detentions that have a disproportionate impact on marginalized populations,” he added. According to Chin and Lee, if facial technology is to remain legal, there should be “clear limits on the use of surveillance technologies in certain circumstances or greater accountability and control mechanisms.”

What’s next?

Some local governments have taken steps to limit or ban facial recognition. In the year In 2020, the city of New Orleans banned its police department from using the software. Similar laws have been passed in other states, and Virginia has placed restrictions on its use by law enforcement.

However, New Orleans later reversed its decision and moved to allow police officers to use facial recognition in certain circumstances. Similar changes followed in Virginia and other states following a rise in violent crime. So despite the issues surrounding facial recognition, Congressional approval of restrictions on the technology is not a priority for the agency, and its use appears poised to continue in the near future.


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