From New York to California, city and state governments throughout the United States are second-guessing the use of facial recognition technologies by police departments and other government entities. San Francisco was among the first major cities to issue a ban on ‘secret surveillance’ tools such as facial recognition.
Now backlash against public use of facial recognition appears to be gathering steam, and some technology trials have faced additional scrutiny. Oakland, California, has joined San Francisco in banning use of facial recognition. Oakland’s diverse population has led to concerns about facial recognition systems that are prone to misidentify people of color.
Limiting the use of facial recognition technology
The policy would limit use of live facial recognition to situations of credible terrorism threatsNearby Berkeley, California, is considering its own prohibition of facial recognition systems by city government. Somerville, Massachusetts, has banned city departments from buying or using facial-recognition technology for any purpose.
A Detroit civilian oversight board and the Board of Police Commissioners are reviewing a formal policy that would require other evidence to be used along with biometric search results to confirm a suspect’s identity. The policy would also limit use of live facial recognition to situations of credible terrorism threats.
At the state level, Massachusetts and Michigan are considering moratoriums on use of facial recognition, and a bill in California would forbid police use of facial recognition in body cameras. There is a law in Illinois that requires companies to get consent from customers before collecting biometric information.
Installing cameras and facial recognition system
Lockport Schools in western New York state have recently drawn attention to their planned use of facial recognition. The school system plans to install dozens of surveillance cameras and a facial recognition system using $1.4 million of a state grant. The Aegis system (by SN Technologies in Canada) creates an ‘early warning system’ that informs staff if it detects individuals who are not allowed in the schools.
|The school system plans to install dozens of surveillance cameras and a facial recognition system|
The system will screen every door and also use object recognition to detect 10 types of guns. An initial implementation of the program this summer is meant to troubleshoot the system, train officials on its use, and discuss procedures with law enforcement in the event of an alert. Full implementation is planned in the fall.
Abuse of facial recognition system
However, New York State Education Department has asked Lockport Schools to delay use of facial recognition technology on students pending further evaluation, and a bill introduced in the New York State Assembly would halt use of the technology for a year for further study.
The city of Orlando and Orlando Police Department are testing facial recognition technology to address public safety
Abuse has also been a concern. A report from Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology details widespread abuse of the New York Police Department’s facial recognition system, including image alteration and use of non-suspect images. The charges raise questions about the propriety of how expanding technical capabilities of facial recognition systems are implemented.
Testing facial recognition for public safety
The city of Orlando, Florida, and Orlando Police Department are testing facial recognition technology to address public safety, partnering with Amazon Web Services. One pilot ended in June 2018, and the most recent ended on July 18, 2019. Orlando has no immediate plants regarding future pilots. Light bulb-sized cameras were affixed to traffic signal poles along the city’s palm-tree-lined avenues.
If a camera ‘sees’ someone, it sends a live video feed to Amazon’s facial ‘Rekognition’ system, cross-referencing the face against persons of interest. Only images of Orlando police officer volunteers were used for the test.
Recently Congress has become attentive to privacy concerns and, now, the Senate is considering a bill that would limit businesses from collecting and tracking facial recognition data without consent.