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Communications of the ACM

ACM Opinion

Should Government Halt the Use of Facial-Recognition Technology?

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A woman sees her facial recognition scan.

The use of facial recognition technology has been restricted by several states and municipalities, and the issue has also surfaced in Congress.

Credit: jim lo scalzo/epa-efe/rex/Shutterstock

Facial recognition is becoming an important tool in a range of consumer, business and law enforcement applications.

But is it accurate—and fair?

Facial recognition software promises to speed up the job of determining, or verifying, people's identity by rapidly checking faces against a database. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, part of the Department of Homeland Security, has been testing the technology at airports, using it to verify the identity of people entering the U.S. as well as departing travelers. Other law enforcement agencies, such as local police forces, are using the technology to identify suspects or missing people.

Facial recognition is also showing up in business and consumer applications. Some airlines are using it to speed up check-in, for instance, and some electronic devices use it as a security measure.

But as the systems spread, civil-liberties advocates and other groups are calling for a moratorium on the use of the technology.

Critics point to several incidents of alleged abuse of the technology by police. Meanwhile, a far-reaching government analysis of the most widely used facial recognition algorithms found most of them misidentified Asian-Americans and African-Americans far more often than Caucasians. The research, conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology—a laboratory affiliated with the Commerce Department—also found significant differences in accuracy when an algorithm is used to compare two photos to determine whether it is the same person.

Because of concerns about reliability, some makers of law-enforcement technology have said they aren't including facial recognition in their products. Government pressure is growing, as well, with some local lawmakers restricting use of the technology and some members of Congress voicing opposition.

Meredith Whittaker, co-founder of the AI Now Institute at New York University, argues for a halt in government use of facial recognition technology. Arguing against bans or moratoriums is Daniel Castro, vice president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.


From The Wall Street Journal
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