5 commonsense steps for mayors wanting biometric surveillance

biometric identification facial recognition

Trust being difficult to establish, the National League of Cities has published a report it hopes will show municipal leaders how to prepare citizens for facial recognition systems and how to hold bureaucracies accountable for using them.

The five-point plan (each of which breaks down into deeper detail), takes politicians and department leads from communicating advantages of the biometric technology to residents to drafting vendor contracts.

It is as clear and concise an explainer available on the topic, though it misses one essential point. Not every city will accept face biometrics. It would be useful to advise leaders on how to successfully rebound from initial rejection, and how to know when to let it go entirely.

The report first recommends building trust from the start with open communications among governed and governors. Frank and patient discussions about benefits, risks, responsibilities, accountabilities — and costs — are required.

Legislate ongoing authorizations, too: regular internal and independent audits, re-authorization via recurring public votes on face biometrics, for example.

Let everyone know where cameras are and how they can submit complaints.

Second, adopt high standards to the system.

Create quantitatively effective training programs for the police and any other city employees and officials who will use the AI systems in any capacity.

Require double-blind confirmation of results before declaring a biometric match and keep detailed records of use. And while it would seem to go without saying, the report’s authors recommend prohibiting a match as the sole cause for arresting someone.

Along the same lines, the third recommendation is to limit the scope of AI use as a way of limited the risk of privacy violations and misidentification.

For instance, the authors write, only use facial recognition for violent crimes, life-threatening emergencies, incidents of terrorism and the like. Priorities like these limit the temptation to go after parking meter scofflaws by creating an image dragnet that increase the chances of violating constitutional rights and alienate supporters.

Fourth, be demanding with standards for data storage and security. As with the previous point, it is smart to avoid antagonizing litigious opponents and eroding ambivalent backers.

The kicker to this list is the final point, one that gets too little attention. Municipalities of almost any size enter contracts with supplies all the time, and yet, most of those negotiations come down to cost.

Assuming the groundwork has been laid for the need of facial recognition networks, the focus in contract talks should be on vendor accountability, system error rates, ongoing system tests, bias certification and other performance factors.

The report also recommends signing a contract that is shorter rather than longer. Not only might a vendor under-perform, but residents and even city officials might decide face biometrics just are not right for them.

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