Law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, have begun using facial recognition technology to find and identify crime suspects.Dakin Andone, “Police Used Facial Recognition to Identify the Capital Gazette Shooter. Here’s How It Works,” CNN, June 29, 2018. As more jurisdictions adopt this new investigative tool, civil liberties groups have begun to sound the alarm on privacy rights.Sara Ashley O'Brien and Kaya Yurieff, “Amazon Asked to Stop Selling Facial Recognition Technology to Police,” CNN, May 24, 2018.
In May, 41 civil rights organizations, including the ACLU, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Human Rights Watch, signed a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos requesting that Amazon stop selling facial recognition technology to local police departments and arguing that the technology is likely to be used both to infringe on privacy and to target marginalized populations, including people of color and immigrants.Letter from ACLU, et al. to Jeff Bezos re: Amazon Rekognition Technology, May 22, 2018.
Others, including Kairos founder Brian Brackeen and the U.S. Government Accountability Office, have raised concerns about limitations inherent in the technology and the potential for “false positives” in identifications.Brian Brackeen, “Facial Recognition Software Is Not Ready for Use by Law Enforcement,” TechCrunch, June 25, 2018; and Statement of Diana Maurer, director, Government Accountability Office (GAO), Homeland Security and Justice Team, Before the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, U.S. House of Representatives, Face Recognition Technology: DOJ and FBI Need to Take Additional Actions to Ensure Privacy and Accuracy (Washington, DC: GAO, 2017).
Proponents in law enforcement and the tech sector contend that the tool has helped make investigations more efficient and, in some cases, has improved public safety, but others, such as county employees in Washington County, Oregon, have raised concerns about the security and privacy of the people whose mug shots they are uploading into Amazon’s cloud storage.Associated Press, “ACLU Calls Out Amazon, Washington Co. Sheriff's Office for Facial Recognition Tech,” KGW, May 23, 2018; and Albin Lohr-Jones, “Few Rules Govern Police Use of Facial Recognition Technology,” Wired, May 22, 2018.
Facial recognition technology and other artificial intelligence tools are fast becoming an integral part of 21st century law enforcement and are likely here to stay.David Griffith, “Artificial Intelligence and Law Enforcement,” Police, October 17, 2017.
Sorting out the boundaries and rules for their use and balancing their efficiency against due process rights isn’t a new concept, but it’s one that agencies will need to face going forward.