Bias allegations against facial recognition prompt legal challenge, threat

ACLU takes Louisiana police to court for documents on biometrics program
Bias allegations against facial recognition prompt legal challenge, threat

Allegations of poor performance for women and people of color by face biometrics systems have resulted in legal action in one case and the threat of a suit in another in the U.S.

The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law says it will sue the State Bar of California if it uses its online proctoring system with facial recognition as it plans to in 2021, Bloomberg Law reports.

The rights organization wrote a letter to officials and ExamSoft, the online proctoring software provider, saying it “will be forced to take legal action” if “immediate steps” are not taken towards replacing the biometric solution for examinations scheduled for February.

“It is by now well-established by experts in that field that FRT is disproportionately inaccurate in identifying women and people of color,” the write on behalf of State Bar applicant Ian To and the National Association for Equity in the Legal Profession.

Anecdotal evidence indicates the software used in 2020 was not effective at biometrically recognizing some people of color, though a legal challenge against its use last year was rejected.

ExamSoft is among online proctor software vendors that recently responded to questions from a group of U.S. Senators about the demographic disparities in the effectiveness of their biometric technologies, with the company claiming it has found no evidence of bias in its software.

CEO Sebastian Vos also told Bloomberg that the company’s human review mechanisms help it mitigate bias against people of color, people with disabilities, or people who wear religious garments that could trigger an alert.

The facial recognition technology used in ExamSoft’s software is provided by a biometrics partner.

Critics had dubbed last year’s online bar exams ‘Barpocalypse’, and recounted failures around both the technology and its implementation.

ACLU sues Louisiana Police

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Louisiana is taking State Police to court to obtain documentation on its facial recognition technology, after its initial request was denied.

ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Alanah Odoms cites racial bias in face biometric systems and their vulnerability to abuse at the hands of law enforcement, noting that incidence of wrongful arrest in the U.S. are now attributed to facial recognition.

The Louisiana State Police’s (LSP’s) Fusion Center was found to be using facial recognition without public knowledge, according to the ACLU, when a two-year old pilot program with biometric software from Idemia was referred to in court testimony.

The group filed a public records request for information about the facial recognition program in September 2019. The request was denied by LSP, which said it did not have some of the requested records, and the others are exempt from the State’s Public Records Law. New Orleans Police have reportedly been using the face biometrics capabilities of state and federal partners, according to a report from late last year, and the ACLU says it obtained documents to that affect which identified the Fusion Center as part of a separate investigation.

“Police must be accountable to the communities impacted by their harmful practices—our community members have a right to an informed debate before any mass surveillance capable technologies are acquired or utilized,” Odoms comments in a statement. “The ACLU of Louisiana demands transparency from Louisiana State Police, beginning with the release of these documents.”

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