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UN says nations need to ensure biometrics firms aren’t part of rights abuses

UN says nations need to ensure biometrics firms aren’t part of rights abuses

A UN committee on fighting racial discrimination has published a report detailing the role that facial recognition companies should play when it comes to selling algorithms to police agencies.

The Elimination of Racial Discrimination committee this month issued a report with recommended steps to prevent racial profiling by law enforcement officials. As a new and potent tool for profiling, facial recognition systems get significant ink in the document.

Businesses selling products for law enforcement surveillance should as a matter of course consult with outside sources including legal experts, sociologists, computer scientists and political scientists when developing systems that might infringe human rights.

National governments, not private businesses, are addressed directly in the recommendations because the United Nations has no local jurisdiction in this matter. So the steps are stated as those that member nations should take when sourcing facial recognition profiling systems.

The introduction of racial bias into algorithmic systems, and the use of biometrics to track certain groups are considered, along with how to mitigate them.

Committee members said governments should work with companies that conduct evaluations about the impact surveillance systems could have on rights — especially the right of peaceful assembly.

Much of the report, and that of other related UN-produced reports, focus on how facial recognition, particularly live face scanning of crowds, can intimidate people wishing to make their views heard through peaceful protest.

(The UN is on record as noting that no right is absolute or free of responsibility. If, for example, police officials legitimately suspect troublemakers — or worse — are part of peaceful gatherings, indiscriminate facial recognition profiling can be warranted.)

Member state responsibilities for preserving human rights go as far as preventing sales when the risk of “violations has been assessed to be too high or impossible to mitigate.”

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