EDITORIAL: Put limits on facial recognition technology

Youssef Sarhan/Unsplash
Youssef Sarhan/Unsplash

Categories: Editorial

In the explosion of technology, we’ve gotten used to giving up our privacy.

Whereas security cameras used to be the exclusive province of banks and stores, now they can catch us walking down the street, observe us from above from drones and even catch us ringing the neighbor’s doorbell.

We routinely sign over to cell phone companies access to our personal and banking records, our shopping patterns and our exact location on the planet.

All these systems are ripe for abuse by those with access to our information and movements.

But none, perhaps, is more insidious, invasive and potentially dangerous than unproven new facial recognition technology.

Facial recognition systems analyze images of human faces for the purpose of identifying them by mapping their facial features.

It could be effective in identifying criminal suspects or terrorists attempting to get through airports.

But one big problem with it, besides the obvious privacy issues it raises, is that the technology hasn’t been perfected. It’s been proven to be particularly error-prone when it comes to identifying people of color. It’s really bad at distinguishing between black women.

The implications are obvious.

If law enforcement relies on this technology to identify criminal suspects, how many times will it be used to falsely accuse someone of a crime?

Given its flaws with regard to accurately identifying non-white individuals, the technology potentially introduces another form of racism into the legal system. Just what we need, right?

Before the technology becomes commonplace, state lawmakers need to instill safeguards.

One bill pending in the state Legislature (A9767/S7572) would prohibit its use by law enforcement and establish a task force to study the technology and set up regulations.

It also would make recommendations for the circumstances under which it could be used by law enforcement.

The task force would be comprised of representatives from law enforcement, data security, civil liberties organizations, lawyers and biomedical experts.

Right now, the technology in this country is virtually unregulated by either the state or federal government.

Before we allow its use to expand, and therefore introduce more bias into our legal system, New York needs to jump out ahead, put restrictions on its use and study how it might be used, or not used, in the future.

We’ve already given up so much to technology. We shouldn’t give up our civil liberties, too.

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