Industry groups criticize facial recognition hysteria

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SIA (Security Industry Association) has published a report to combat misconceptions and provide perspective on facial biometrics while the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) has specifically addressed recent claims by the ACLU with a statement panning the organization’s methodology as the industry pushes back on claims made recently by advocates of bans of face recognition technology.

The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Association) recently announced that one in five California legislators were misidentified by Amazon’s Rekognition with default settings, as it backs proposed state legislation to ban the use of facial recognition with police body cameras.

“The ACLU is once again trying to make facial recognition appear dangerous and inaccurate. But independent testing from the federal government has consistently shown that facial recognition technology is highly accurate. It now exceeds the accuracy of humans at identifying faces,” comments ITIF Vice President Daniel Castro.

“This is the second time the ACLU has released misleading findings. Last year, it used dubious methods to claim that facial recognition had high levels of inaccuracy, but it generated false matches by setting an artificially low confidence threshold of 80 percent instead of 99 percent. The ACLU claimed at the time that companies like Amazon were not clear about what the threshold should be. That wasn’t true then, and it isn’t true now. In the past year, Amazon has repeatedly stated that any sensitive application of facial recognition, such as for law enforcement purposes, should only be using high confidence thresholds. So, for the ACLU to repeat this kind of test a year later, while apparently not changing its methods—and still refusing to share its data—is disingenuous and misleading. Claims that are not observable, testable, repeatable, and falsifiable are not science. It’s agenda-driven public relations, and policymakers should ignore it.”

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office has previously admitted it does not follow the confidence threshold recommendations from Amazon, lending ammunition to those who claim that greater oversight and regulation is required.

The report “Face Facts: Dispelling Common Myths Associated with Facial Recognition Technology” from SIA differentiates between authentication and verification use cases and identification and discovery applications, and the probabilistic nature of both. It outlines actual law enforcement use, then compares a set of seven myths about the technology with facts. These include reference to the existing laws that apply to facial recognition, such as the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Constitutional Amendments, and pointing out that because facial recognition does not make final determinations about identity, “(a) ‘false positive’ is not misidentification.” Other points address allegations of universal technological bias, claims that Americans are generally fearful of facial recognition, that Biometric Entry/Exit is illegal, and that stolen facial biometric data can be used for nefarious purposes.

Numerous examples of positive uses of facial recognition are also described.

The pushback comes as Big Brother Watch has published a report calling the use of facial recognition in UK shopping centers, museums, and conference venues an “epidemic,” according to The Telegraph.

The investigation names several sites, though it is unclear how many of the venues are using the technology on a consistent or ongoing basis. The Millenium Point conference center acknowledged it has sometimes used the technology “at the request of law enforcement,” while Meadowhall said it has not used the technology since the completion of a month-long trial.

At the recent Protecting NY Summit, NYPD Deputy Director of Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller emphasized the audit functions built into the city’s surveillance systems, and noted that the force does not have public facial recognition cameras deployed, the Brooklyn Eagle reports.

Miller described a “kind of mythology” around the technology to the Eagle. He says some people believe “(t)hat our NYPD cameras are vacuuming up everybody’s face that goes by, that they’re all being stored in a giant database in the cloud, and that everything is run through a giant facial recognition machine to tie these people to crime.

“Nothing like that exists,” he says. “When we have a picture of somebody involved in a crime, suspected in a crime or at the scene of a crime, and it’s clear enough to be applicable to facial recognition, we will run it against our existing mug shots of already arrested known criminals and see if there is a match.”

Detroit’s police commission continues to debate the use of the technology by the city’s police, Detroit News reports, and Police Chief James Craig compared the resistance to that against the collection of fingerprints years ago.

“It’s the same level of hysteria that we talk about facial recognition today,” Craig said. “But now, nobody questions fingerprints.”

Independent Senator Bernie Sanders has even weighed in, calling for a ban on police use of facial recognition as part of his campaign to be the Presidential nominee for the Democratic Party, VentureBeat reports.

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