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Axon pledges not to add facial biometrics to body cameras on Ethics Board recommendation

Axon pledges not to add facial biometrics to body cameras on Ethics Board recommendation

Police body camera maker Axon has decided not to commercialize biometric face matching products on its body cameras, on the recommendation of the Axon AI and Policing Technology Ethics Board, which has declared facial recognition not yet ready for the controversial use case.

In a 42-page report, the board identified problematic issues with the technology, and suggests the company explore ways to de-bias algorithms. The board says it will not endorse any face recognition technology which “can be completely customized by the user,” and also that the technology should not be adopted by any jurisdiction that has not first gone through an open, transparent, and democratic process that engages with the public.

“Face recognition technology is not currently reliable enough to ethically justify its use,” the board concluded. The board also argues that the development of facial recognition products should be based on evidence to actual benefit.

N.Y.U Policing Project Founding Director and Axon ethics board member Barry Friedman told the New York Times that the technology is simply not accurate enough: “Until that’s fixed we don’t need to say another word. And that could be years.”

The Times reports that Axon provides body cameras and software to 47 of the 69 largest police agencies in the U.S.

The board discussed three distinct use cases it considered potentially less controversial, including when a person has forgotten their ID (such as a drivers’ license during a traffic stop), identification of missing persons, and matching against a small “most wanted” list. It concluded that a range of issues make each problematic.

Axon CEO Rick Smith said last August that the accuracy thresholds of facial recognition technology had not reached the point where they could be used to guide operational decisions.

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