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Senators make their case for proposed U.S. facial biometrics law at Brookings

Senators make their case for proposed U.S. facial biometrics law at Brookings

A recent panel discussion was hosted by the Brookings Institute to discuss how the U.S. government and law enforcement officials can preserve privacy and civil liberties amid the proliferation of facial recognition technology, the Institute reports in a blog post.

Brooking scholars Darrell West and Nicol Turner-Lee were joined by Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Mike Lee (R-UT), who have proposed legislation on the topic, for the discussion.

Topics covered include the how “reasonable expectation of privacy,” long the criteria for judicial decisions on what constitutes “unreasonable search and seizures” under the Fourth Amendment, is influenced by the increased scope of monitoring possible with facial recognition. The Fourth Amendment also does not stipulate how long data can be archived following a lawful search and seizure, raising the possibility of a permanent record of faces with geotags and timestamps.

Civil rights issues and entrenched biases could also arise, for instance if facial recognition software is developed using a disproportionate amount of data from the criminal justice system.

The Facial Recognition Technology Warrant Act, proposed by Coons and Lee, addresses these concerns in regards to targeted surveillance of individuals by federal agencies, at least to some extent, by requiring warrants to enable up to 72 hours of facial recognition surveillance of an individual, and limiting tracking to 30 days or less.

As West pointed out during his opening remarks, Coons is a founder of the Senate Law Enforcement Caucus, as a law enforcement professional in Deleware prior to his political career. Coons began his remarks by pointing out that the advent of smartphones represent a radical increase in available data about individuals, and potentially changing America’s historical balance between civil liberties and public safety.

“Our decision to focus on ongoing surveillance does not mean that we don’t have any concern with other uses of facial recognition technology,” Lee told the audience, “quite to the contrary,” and referenced requests for information from the FBI and DHS about their use of facial biometrics.

The videos included in the blog post are worth watching for anyone in the facial recognition business, or who wants to hear a Senator explain a social issue with a Ghostbusters reference.

While Coons talked about the spread of technology for social control overseas, IHS Markit points out that its recent research on the spread of surveillance cameras indicates the installed base of cameras in the U.S. rivals China’s, on a per capita basis.

There was a security camera for every 4.1 people in China in 2018, according to the research, up from one for every 6.8 people in 2015. In the U.S., the number of people per camera fell during the same period from 6.9 to 4.6.

“During the past few years, coverage of the surveillance market has focused heavily on China’s massive deployments of cameras and artificial intelligence (AI) technology,” comments Oliver Philippou, research and analysis manager for video surveillance at IHS Markit | Technology. “What’s received far less attention is the high level of penetration of surveillance cameras in the United States. With the U.S. nearly on par with China in terms of camera penetration, future debate over mass surveillance is likely to concern America as much as China.”

Cameras in China tend to be newer and deployed for smart city applications, where in the U.S. they have been deployed over many years, with retail and commercial end-users as the top market verticals.

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