Biometrics community recognizes need for better messaging on ethical facial recognition use

Concerns crop up in Russia, India and US; Dahua caught providing ethnic tracking
Biometrics community recognizes need for better messaging on ethical facial recognition use

Less than one in four biometrics community stakeholders say that enough is being done by the industry to influence the messaging around the ethical use of facial recognition, according to a survey from the Biometrics Institute.

A poll conducted during the ‘facial recognition in focus’ session of the Institute’s online Congress shows that 23 percent of the community thinks it is doing enough. Opportunities continue to abound though, with 92 percent expressing optimism about the next 12 months, but 96 percent also agreed that standardized testing is important for the industry’s future.

“Through these important discussions, the task ahead is clear,” observes Isabelle Moeller, chief executive of the Biometrics Institute. “We need to define what good looks like and be transparent about our processes. Transparency is the only way to build trust into the business of biometrics. This year’s Congress really was an A to Z of biometrics as well as thought-provoking, insightful and honest. No sooner did it close its virtual doors than we are making plans to continue the trusted and diverse conversations on the responsible and ethical use of biometrics to enable our members to better serve the people who rely on the decisions they make.”

Key themes that run through the event include that technology is changing faster than policy, processes and standards, the limitations of biometrics and how they can be addressed, the importance of testing, the need for better education of the public and decision-makers, and the need to address the fear of surveillance. Other major issues included changes to the world of travel, the importance of having a human in the decision-making loop, and the role of convenience in biometric digital ID.

Among the presentations from prominent industry experts, European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) Wojciech Wiewiórowski expressed concern about widespread misconceptions around biometrics, as well as support for a moratorium on new deployments while they are sorted out.

Activists allege Moscow’s facial recognition system leaky

Activists gained access to extensive records from the public facial recognition system in Russia by responding to an ad and paying 16,000 rubles (US$200), Thomson Reuters Foundation reports.

The facial recognition landscape in Russia is dotted with such leaks, as well as lawsuits, with several launched by rights activists in recent months.

A volunteer with activist group Roskomsvoboda received 79 pictures of herself with time and location stamps for her $200.

Authorities say a pair of police officers are under investigation, but activists say the problem is widespread.

Moscow’s Department of Technology (DIT) declined to comment on the investigations, but said its recordings contain only images, no personal data.

A survey conducted by independent Russian pollster Levada Centre in September, meanwhile, showed that just 7 percent of Russians are concerned about civil rights and democratic freedom.

‘Project Panoptic’ to show Indian government facial recognition projects

In response to similar concerns in India, the Internet Freedom Foundation’s ‘Project Panoptic’ is launching soon to provide a platform with an online dashboard to track and display information collected about various facial recognition projects in the country with the aim of improving transparency and increasing public awareness.

The IFF says the Indian government has more than 30 proposed projects involving facial recognition in the works, and by increasing awareness of them, the group hopes to help advocacy efforts and “enable strategic litigation” at the federal and state levels.

San Diego smart streetlights record video for no-one

A cautionary tale about installing new technology without finalizing decisions about it is playing out in California, where Voice of San Diego reports local police have stopped using camera feeds from smart streetlights, but cannot stop them from recording and temporarily storing footage.

The video technology in the smart city streetlights is provided by Florida-based Ubicquia, according to the report. When an agreement on the technology’s use was canceled by city officials late in the process, they discovered that the cameras could not be turned off without cutting the power to the lights.

Instead, San Diego’s Sustainability Department had AT&T deactivate the cameras’ network connection to comply with an order from Mayor Kevin Faulconer to cut off access.

Footage is currently retained for five days before being automatically deleted, and the city has sought a software off-switch or elimination of data retention, but Ubicquia was awaiting payment for services rendered last year.

Dahua Uyghur tracking revealed, along with government contract

Hikvision is not the only company to develop software specifically for tracking ethnic Uyghurs in China, as Dahua developed the same capability according to an IPVM report.

Dahua allegedly published software code revealing the detail on its website, but took it down minutes after being contacted by IPVM. The code was spotted by a Twitter user.

Dahua is not partially state-owned, as Hikvision is, but both have been sanctioned for their alleged involvement in repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

The company has also won a contract worth approximately $9 million to provide 1,900 cameras and analytics including facial recognition to the city of Jeixiu, according to a separate (paywalled) report from IPVM. The city in Shanxi province has roughly 400,000 residents, making it similar in size to Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Dahua will supply more than 140 analytics modules to Jeixiu, including license plate reading and real-time event notification.

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