Federal facial recognition regulation watch is on, local rules and practices all over the map

Jackson’s camera network, New Orlean’s cops use, proposed rules in Boston and Madison
Federal facial recognition regulation watch is on, local rules and practices all over the map

Messages from Microsoft and IBM to president-elect Joe Biden included the suggestion that the time for federal regulation of face biometrics has come, Wired reports. The publication says it found that congressional lobbying on the topic jumped by more than four-fold from 2018 to 2019, based on mentions of facial recognition in lobbying filings, and the amount is on track to grow further in 2020.

Companies and groups lobbying on the topic include representatives of retailers, chip makers, cruise ships, wireless service providers, and airlines, according to Wired. The number of disclosure forms mentioning facial recognition was well below 50 each year from 2015 to 2018, before surpassing 150 last year.

Companies are seeking federal regulation at least in part to head off a fragmentation of rules and policies right down to the local level, with city bans and restrictions proliferating to uncertain effect (see below).

Wired notes that the Security Industry Association (SIA) sees a leadership role for U.S. technology providers in ensuring AI use is beneficial, and that the group believes law enforcement should be allowed to continue using facial recognition, just with greater transparency. Information Technology and Innovation Foundation Vice President Danial Castro says with the Biden campaign’s commitment to privacy and social justice, face biometrics regulation may go on the legislative agenda.

Many cameras but no facial recognition in Jackson

Meanwhile in Jackson, Mississippi, police are live-streaming footage from Ring doorbells and other private security cameras owned by participating residents and businesses in a test, Jackson Free Press reports.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said that by signing a waiver, people could give the Real Time Crime Center access to the feeds, which according to the Free Press he said “would save (us) from having to buy a camera for every place across the city.”

Jackson banned the use of facial recognition by local police in August.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) calls the new program confirmation of the group’s worst fears.

Fight for the Future Deputy Director Evan Greer pointed out to Vice Motherboard that traditional surveillance camera companies set up cameras to comply with state and local laws, but homeowners efforts in that area are not likely adequate.

The pilot will last for 45 days and be carried out free of charge to the city.

New Orleans police disclose use of state and federal systems

Police in New Orleans have been using facial recognition through state and federal partners, The Lens writes, declining to name which ones, though saying the FBI is among them.

New Orleans has been considering a ban on facial recognition use by local agencies since July.

Police have in the past responded to questions about their use of the technology with denials, according to The Lens, noting that the department does not own or license facial recognition technology and its Real Time Crime Center has a policy against using it.

A department spokesperson told the publication that the city does not own the biometric technology itself. The spokesperson also said the technology is only used for investigation of violent crimes, but that the frequency of its use is undocumented.

NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson and City Council Member Jason Williams are reported to be working together to craft a facial recognition policy for the department.

Boston surveillance data regulation proposed

In Boston, an ordinance is before city council to regulate the collection of surveillance data, as a companion to the city’s ban on local agency use of facial recognition, according to Boston.com.

The proposal would require Boston Police and other agencies to create details data policies for their surveillance technologies, which would have to be approved by council. New and unapproved technologies could only be acquired after receiving council approval as well. Data provided to the police by schools would also be regulated by the ordinance.

Madison, Wisconsin considers ban

Madison City Council will consider a ban on the use of facial recognition by local law enforcement, The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Daily Cardinal reports, following approval of the proposal by the city’s Public Safety Review Committee.

The outlet says a community forum contained expressions of concern about government overreach and the potential for false positives related to algorithmic bias, and conversely that a ban could hinder human trafficking investigations.

A presentation by Interim Madison Police Chief Vic Wahl and Special Victims Unit Head Detective Julie Johnson emphasized that the NIST report on bias points out massive gains in accuracy in recent years, and that the large disparities observed were not present in some of the algorithms tested.

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