According to research from the Georgetown privacy and technology center and the ACLU, around 50% of Americans have been recorded by police in facial recognition databases. Not 50% of American criminals, mind you – 50% of American adults. This means that law enforcement views half of the country as either criminals or potential lawbreakers regardless of whether they have evidence for such an assessment or not:
“'Face recognition, when it’s used most aggressively, can change the nature of public spaces,' said Alvaro Bedoya, executive director of Georgetown’s privacy and technology center. ‘It can change the basic freedom we have to go about our lives without people identifying us from afar and in secret.'
The center’s year-long investigation, based on more than 100 police records requests, has produced the most comprehensive survey of facial databases to date and raises numerous questions about the lack of transparency and privacy protections.
Law enforcement biometric databases have traditionally captured DNA profiles related to criminal arrests or forensic investigations. What’s alarming about the FBI’s ‘face recognition unit', according to the report, is that it is ‘overwhelmingly made up of non-criminal entries'.
The FBI database photos come from state driver’s licenses, passports and visa applications, meaning police can easily identify and monitor people who haven’t had any run-ins with the law.
‘In the case of face recognition, there appear to be very few controls or safeguards to ensure it’s not used in situations in which people are engaged in first amendment activity,' said Neema Singh Guliani, ACLU’s legislative counsel.
The ACLU recently found that police in Baltimore may have used the recognition technology along with social media accounts to identify and arrest people with outstanding warrants during high-profile police protests last year. That alleged surveillance relied on tools from Geofeedia, a controversial social media monitoring company that partners with police.
The ACLU, which on Tuesday urged the US Department of Justice to investigate facial recognition, also revealed last week that Facebook and Twitter had provided users’ data to Geofeedia, with records suggesting that the social media sites had aided police in surveillance of protesters. The firms have since cut off Geofeedia’s special access to their data.
In addition to concerns about illegal monitoring and the targeting of lawful protesters, research has found that the facial recognition algorithms can be biasedand inaccurate – with serious consequences for innocent people.
‘This technology is powerful, but it is not neutral,' said Bedoya. ‘This technology makes mistakes.'
The FBI’s own statistics suggest that one out of every seven searches of its facial recognition database fails to turn up a correct match, meaning the software occasionally produces 50 ‘potential' matches who are all ‘innocent', the report said.”
Source: The Guardian