Axon says facial biometric software for police body and vehicle cameras not in development

After Axon was reportedly denied the use of facial recognition technology from Kairos, the body camera maker has invented its own facial biometric software technology, according to three patent filings reported by the Financial Times. In an email to Biometric Update, however, an Axon representative said that the company is actively working on a face redaction product, not real-time facial identification.

The Times reports that Axon had repeatedly denied that it was working on facial recognition, and Axon CEO Rick Smith said last August that in addition to privacy and policy concerns, the technology is not yet accurate enough for deployment to police body cameras. Kairos had declined to partner with Axon a couple of months earlier, before a major shakeup left the facial recognition provider with new leadership but the same position on selling to law enforcement.

The patents describe technology for recognizing and blurring out sensitive information in footage, such as police officer’s faces, for matching individuals in police databases, and estimating the race, gender, and age of subjects. Two of the three patents are pending, the Times reports.

Shortly after this story was published, the company reached out to offer clarification. While the Axon AI and Policing Technology Ethics Board is actively discussing the topic, the patents do not all reflect current product development, according to PR and Communications Manager Carley Partridge.

“Axon is not actively developing technology that can determine a person’s race, gender and age,” Partridge wrote in the email. “Nor are we developing technology that would match faces captured in police body camera images to police databases. These items are potential uses cases that could be incorporated with the product outlined in the patent. These are not tools that Axon is currently working on. The face detection tool that Axon is currently developing involves detecting that there is a face in the frame and redacting it – it does not identify the individual whom the face belongs to, neither does it recognize their race, age, gender, etc.”

Axon, which also makes Taser stun guns, says that it supplies cameras and software to 48 major cities in the U.S.

In the earnings call in which he expressed concerns about the technology’s accuracy, Smith said that the company would consider developing and commercializing facial recognition products once accuracy and privacy concerns had abated, according to the Times. The two patents for video redaction technology were filed in 2016 and 2018. The other patent, filed in 2017, is for real-time video analysis of video from body and vehicle cameras.

“Filing a patent application is by no means a declaration of taking action or considering technology or product development,” Axon told the Times statement. “Our redaction product is currently limited to detection of faces. We do not match the detected faces against a centralised database which would be identification of the individual’s faces.”

Axon Director of AI and Machine Learning Moji Solgi denied the company is actively developing facial recognition products, and that it would not consider doing so until its AI ethics board formed a year ago reports on its findings, which it is expected to within the next year. Solgi also denied the report from last year that Axon had sought to license Kairos’ software or buy the company outright.

When it was reported last year that Axon was considering implementing artificial intelligence capabilities in its camera products, a letter co-signed by dozens of organizations called for the company’s AI ethics board to categorically declare the deployment of real-time facial recognition technology to body cameras unethical.

The Times also reports that Axon plans to announce an AI-powered video analysis product at its annual conference, which begins in late April.

Updated April 10, 9:50 PM – Headline and added comment from Axon.

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