Face biometrics systems shut down in Washington, DC and São Paulo, Brazil

Activists celebrate wins over law enforcement and public transit demographic systems

biometric identification facial recognition

The National Capital Region Facial Recognition System (NCRFRILS) operated in the U.S. Capitol will be discontinued due to a new Virginia law which bars the use of face biometrics by police unless the legislature approves a specific application.

Metropolitan Washington Coalition of Governments (MWCOG) informed the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) of the policy change in a letter which referred to a previous letter sent by EPIC seeking the publication of documentation for NCRFRILS, and arguing that face biometrics are detrimental to multiple different human rights. An MWCOG spokesperson said at the time that the program was being re-evaluated.

The facial recognition system had been used by police departments and government agencies in DC, as well as Maryland and Virginia, and will be shut down no later than July 1, 2021.

Brazilian metro face biometrics system blocked by judge

The São Paulo Court of Justice has blocked the deployment of face biometrics to a camera network within its public transport system, according to an announcement by Access Now.

The system reportedly performed facial classification according to demographics and emotion.

The court found that Metro operator ViaQuatro failed to submit information that proved it was only aggregating data as statistics, and that it did not inform people that their biometric data was being captured. The company argued that it was performing “facial detection” but not “facial recognition,” according to Access Now, which considers face detection and classification to both be forms of facial recognition.

The judge ruled ViaQuatro’s lack of transparency and consistency constitute “abusive business practices,” ordered the company to cease biometric data collection without subject consent, and pay damages of R$100,000 (roughly US$19,000).

The Instituto Brasileiro de Defesa do Consumidor (Idec) brought a legal challenge against the system in 2018, and Access Now submitted an expert opinion in 2020 arguing that emotion recognition is unscientific and that gender recognition discriminates against trans and non-binary individuals.

“This cornerstone ruling banning facial recognition technology in the São Paulo metro is a victory not only for Brazil, but the rest of the world. It sets a precedent that facial recognition technology, especially automated gender and emotion recognition, implies processing biometric data,” Access Now Policy Associate for Latin America Verónica Arroyo states. “As a next step, governments must inform themselves on how implementing this technology creates extreme harm, and ban automated gender recognition in public spaces.”

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