Face recognition in the USA: chaotic rules, protest takes its toll5. October 2019
Face recognition in the USA: chaotic rules, protest takes its toll
New York, October 7, 2019.
The legal rules for the use of facial recognition in the USA are, to say the least, contradictory. Criticism is increasing. MIT Technology” recently reported that a police officer in San Francisco is not allowed to use this technology to arrest a criminal. The same is the case in Oakland, Sommerville and Massachusetts. Reason: the algorithms for colored people and women are not correct. On the other hand, there are no limits imposed on landlords or private companies. The use of this technology in factories, offices, apartment buildings, hotels and department stores is booming.
Data protection commissioners fear that constant monitoring leads to discrimination and has a deterrent effect on freedom of expression. Even the American public, untroubled by such issues, no longer feels comfortable with the idea of being “monitored” anywhere. This was the result of a recent survey by Pew Research. They also believe that the use of facial recognition by the police makes more sense than leaving it to private companies without any regulation. Against this backdrop, the Digital Digital Rights Group Fight for the Future has taken the lead in a growing group of privacy advocates whose actions are increasingly attracting attention.
Keeping companies under control
The first tactic is “old-school corporate printing,” says Evan Greer, deputy director of the Digital Rights Group Fight for the Future. The company has created a website that lists airlines that use face recognition to encourage consumers to choose other options. Recently, Fight for the Future launched a campaign that puts pressure on concert halls and festivals not to use the technology, partly inspired by Ticketmaster’s statement that it could replace tickets with face IDs. Musicians such as singer and songwriter Amanda Palmer, rapper Atmosphere and Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine have supported the efforts.
Renowned music festivals such as Governors Ball, Austin City Limits, Bonnaroo and Pitchfork have now promised not to use face tracking. “It’s worth making commitments,” Greer says. “We don’t have to wait for an industry to adopt the technology on a large scale and embed it in its business model.
The legislative method
Another model follows the urban development of police bans. The city of Portland, Oregon, is considering two separate regulations, one that would prohibit policemen from using the technology and one that would also stop private companies. For example, the private ban would not affect Apple’s FaceID or Facebook’s use of face recognition in tagging. City officials are more concerned about the prospect of shops and other facilities requiring face recognition for entry, something that Jacksons, a local convenience store, started more than a year ago on a limited basis. The city council will discuss the proposal again at a meeting in November.
US Congressmen Yvette Clarke, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib, on the other hand, will not focus on geographical regions but on specific groups. They just presented a federal bill that would prohibit facial recognition in state-financed public housing.
The use of face recognition by landlords is quickly becoming a hot-button problem. According to Pew’s latest report, only 36% of Americans consider it okay to require facial recognition to enter the place where they live. The problem is even greater with federal or low-wage housing. Not only the technology is invasive, say the residents, but also discriminatory, because many tenants are colored.
In New York, the residents of a low-income building are fighting their landlord’s plan to replace a key fob input system with a facial recognition system. “Why did the landlord choose our building to try this system? Compared to 11 other buildings that have a different composition,” asked Icemae Downes, one of the residents.
The wheel does not have to be reinvented
Existing laws can also be updated to cover facial recognition, says Jevan Hutson, a law student and technology policy researcher at the University of Washington. States already have civil rights laws that prevent discrimination in public places like restaurants, hotels, schools, hospitals, parks, convention centers and more. Given the technology’s track record of failing to treat people fairly, Hutson says it is possible to develop a legal argument that facial recognition violates civil rights. Should such an amendment be adopted, the law would effectively prevent the use of the technology in a variety of public spaces.
Another way would be to update a state’s consumer protection laws. Many companies claim that their technology can recognize emotions, but studies have shown that their methods are very flawed. So you can argue that these algorithms violate laws against unfair or misleading practices.
Such a step forces lobbyists to deal with the language of civil rights. “It’s like, okay, we’re updating the civil rights law. You care about the principles of civil rights,” says Hutson. “If you don’t want us to do it, how can we expect one of your proposed security measures to matter?” He works with lawmakers and hopes to introduce a bill during the next legislative period in Washington State, which begins in January.
Different laws for state and private enterprise is wrong?
In practice, the distinction between state and private facial recognition is wrong. Normalizing one normalizes the other, says Evan Selinger, philosopher at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Once everyone is accustomed to using Facebook’s face recognition system, he says, “It’s going to be much harder to say that law enforcement that looks after the good should have less freedom than you. If facial recognition is taken for granted, “ultimately provide the private sector with information that it can share with law enforcement.
This private sector is powerful and will want to have a say in regulation. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos recently said that the company is creating its own draft facial recognition guidelines to present to legislators.
Earlier this year, Microsoft supported data protection legislation in Washington State that would have made some restrictions on facial recognition, but the bill also said it was okay to use facial recognition for profiling as long as someone checked the results. It failed after six privacy groups argued it was far too weak.
That’s part of why activists like Greer insist that a multi-track strategy will be needed to investigate legislative and economic approaches. “We need all of the above,” she says, “Citizens should definitely hold businesses accountable. It is important for the legislator to deal with this. If there is one thing we know, it is that we cannot trust industry to regulate itself.”