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Facial recognition use must be accurate, fair

November 24, 2022 at 12:00 a.m.

In nearly every spy thriller or superhero movie, some savvy computer wiz pushes a few buttons, and dozens of mugshots flash across a screen until the bad guy is identified.

The action requires a facial recognition system using biometrics, which generally use body measurements to match a photo with a person.

Those systems are not as reliable as Batman or Jason Bourne would have us believe. They can inaccurately identify anyone. Those foul-ups generally involve people of color.

A 2019 federal study found that Asian and Black people were up to 100 times more likely to be misidentified than white men, depending on the system's algorithm and type of search.

Native Americans had the highest rate of false positives among all ethnicities, according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

The pervasive technology is everywhere. One estimate places the presence of one surveillance camera for every 4.6 Americans. Estimates for China are one camera for every 4.1 people.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection uses facial recognition technology for identity checks. From fiscal year 2018 through 2021, customs processed over 100 million individuals using facial recognition, uncovering 950 imposters but improving aircraft boarding times.

In July 2021, the U.S. House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security heard testimony regarding law enforcement's use of the technology. Witnesses urged melding the technology with constitutional rights to privacy and free speech.

Berry Friedman, professor at New York University School of Law, called it "democratic accountability."

He told the subcommittee, "It is asking too much of policing agencies to develop regulatory approaches to complex technologies on their own. That is the job of legislative bodies. It is your job."

He added, "Nowhere is the mistrust higher than in Black and brown and marginalized communities, which already feel the brunt of many unfortunate policing practices."

Grassroots protests have cropped up. Last year, the West Lafayette City Council passed a ban on facial recognition technology; however, the mayor vetoed the ban.

In mid-October, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued Google for unauthorized use of biometric data involving body measurements without approval by Texans.

Regarding general protections, Americans should hope that there is reasonable suspicion that the subject of a criminal investigation is involved with or has knowledge of possible criminal or terrorist activity.

A court order could be considered in administering facial recognition technology against a suspect. That technology cannot serve as a foolproof link to a suspect in court proceedings.

The technology looks trendy in movies, but such thrillers don't talk about police profiling by skin color, nor do they set up penalties for misuse.

There need to be additional guidelines to tell the public when and how facial recognition is being used, such as at passport control points. The systems must be accurate but, like polygraph tests, generally not admissible as evidence in court.

And the technology and its system operators must guarantee and protect an individual's constitutional rights.

-- Anderson Herald Bulletin, Nov. 16

Print Headline: Facial recognition use must be accurate, fair

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