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U.S. law enforcement face biometrics market carries on despite splashy announcements

U.S. law enforcement face biometrics market carries on despite splashy announcements

U.S. police will still have choices among biometrics providers when contracting facial recognition services, despite several big names exiting the space, with The Wall Street Journal reporting that NEC, Clearview AI, and Ayonix have all confirmed their places to continue selling to law enforcement.

The Journal quotes a policy associate at Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology as saying that most contracts with law enforcement are held by companies that people have never heard of.

Ayonix, along with companies like iOmniscient and Herta Security, are among companies each serving a handful of U.S. law enforcement customers that will continue doing so, after tech giants Microsoft, Amazon and IBM said they would at least temporarily halt their sales to U.S. police. iOmniscient was recently revealed as the facial recognition provider for Hong Kong police.

Dr. Vural Sadi, president and CEO of Ayonix, said in a LinkedIn post that the decisions of the three tech giants reflect acknowledgement of the limitations of their own algorithms on people with different skin colors.

“Furthermore, most of the industry trains their face recognition by using Deep learning models from TensorFlow, and Google convolutional neural network,” he explains. “As a result, models become big, need a lot of computational power; the training model turns (out) to be weak for real-world conditions and different races.”

Sadi also points out that Ayonix does not use an automated method for collecting face images, the way IBM has. The differences in methodology result in better performance across different races and lower hardware requirements.

“We believe that law enforcement agencies should be able to use thoroughly tested and validated facial recognition technologies to help correct inherent biases, protect privacy and civil liberties, and fairly and effectively conduct just investigations,” NEC said in a statement.

The Journal also characterizes Clearview as a “large provider,” noting that it has 2,400 active accounts from law enforcement agencies, but acknowledging that at least some are free trials.

A poll of facial recognition companies by Vice was largely met with silence from facial recognition providers, and none among the handful that responded said they sell facial recognition to police in America.

A CNN report on the difficulty of translating a will for responsible federal regulation of facial recognition into actual law notes that Amazon is one of the 10 organizations responsible for the most corporate lobbying, and Microsoft spent $10 million last year on federal lobbying.

By CNN’s count, there are at least a dozen bills that directly or indirectly address facial recognition before Congress.

For federal agencies, the recent announcements may not mean much, as they are directed at law enforcement specifically.

“But for a lot of federal agencies like DHS, we have missions beyond law enforcement that include areas like national security,” DHS Biometric Technology Center Director Arun Vemury told FedScoop. “In many cases, Congress has already passed laws requiring us to use biometric technologies for these missions.”

The TSA likewise told the publication that it does not use facial recognition for law enforcement, and does not use IBM, Amazon, or Microsoft technology in its traveler identity verification pilots. Instead the agency use “top-performing” algorithms, and FedScoop notes IBM and Amazon have never submitted algorithms to NIST. Microsoft, on the other hand finished near the top of the leaderboard in many 1:N categories when it submitted an algorithm in 2018.

NIST testing is set to resume “imminently,” while the DHS Biometric Technology Rally for this year is tentatively scheduled to run from late-September to mid-October. This year the rally will seek to identify people on the move while wearing masks. A new event, called the Privacy Technology Demonstration, is planned to start at the end of October.

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