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Tech that knows you: Face recognition computer programs arouse privacy concerns

Read other news about video or technology overall and list two things you learn.
Pick any law enforcement coverage and tell what's newsworthy or interesting.
Look for a different issue being considered by Congress and summarize a few key points.

Although unity in Congress across political lines often seems hard to achieve, many Democrats and Republicans agree on a need for regulations about combining facial recognition software and public video surveillance. A House committee recently held two hearings on use of the emerging technology by the FBI, Transportation Security Administration and a growing number of state and local police forces. Lawmakers in both parties suggest tight limits and a temporary halt to using the systems. "It's time for a time out" on government use of the technology, says Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio.

Sophisticated facial analysis tools can find possible suspects in security video feeds from airports, rail stations, border crossings, parks, schools, campuses, office lobbies, shopping malls and streets. People whose faces already are in a database can be identified by name. "This poses a staggering array of risks to civil rights, civil liberties and public safety," says Jake Laperruque, a senior attorney at the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit group in Washington, D.C.

The technology, a form of computer vision, uses software to scan an image or live video for a face and then match it with a similar, previously taken image or video of that same person. The program swiftly analyzes facial landmarks, such as the distance between eyes, and compares that against images in its stockpile. Baltimore police used the capability to scan individuals at a 2015 protest and arrest those with outstanding warrants. The FBI conducts an average of over 4,000 facial recognition scans per month, House Oversight Committee members were told, and about one-quarter of state and big city police departments can run those types of searches. The FBI has 30 million criminal mugshots on file, plus access to search local authorities' databases.

"This technology is evolving extremely rapidly without any real guard rails," said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., in early June at the second hearing he chaired. "There are real concerns about the risks that this technology poses to our civil rights and liberties and our right to privacy." Concerns also involve accuracy. Critics cite false identifications, as well as failures when someone goes unidentified even if they're in the database. Innocent people can be flagged as suspicious and possibly arrested, in other words. "People's freedom is at stake," says Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Detroit Democrat on the Oversight Committee. Its members unanimously agreed to push for a nationwide moratorium on law enforcement use of facial recognition programs until federal regulations are adopted.

Congresswoman says: "I'm a little freaked out by facial recognition. You should be freaked out too." – Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.

Other critics say: "Face recognition gives government agencies the unprecedented power to track who we are, where we go, and who we know. This capability threatens to create a world where people are watched and identified as they attend a protest, congregate outside a place of worship, visit a medical provider, or simply go about their daily lives." – Letter to House Oversight Committee from ACLU-led coalition

Journalist writes: "The technology's accuracy and reliability at this point is much more modest than advertised, and those imperfections make law enforcement's use of it potentially sinister." – Lily Hay Newman, Wired magazine staff writer

Front Page Talking Points is written by Alan Stamm for, Copyright 2020
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