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Biometrics experts plead for scientific foundation to White House policy

Ditch the affect recognition and hyperbole, researchers advise
Biometrics experts plead for scientific foundation to White House policy

Biometric technologies for establishing or confirming a person’s physical identity are not similar enough to those intended for emotional analysis to regulate them in the same way, biometrics researcher John Howard says in a LinkedIn post sharing an expert response to the White House’s recent request for information.

Submitted on behalf of the Identity and Data Sciences Laboratory at the Maryland Test Facility the Department of Homeland Services (DHS) uses for its Biometric Technology Rallies, the 12-page letter points out that both potential benefits and harms from facial recognition are real, in perhaps the most telling of all comments so far in terms of the current status of public discourse.

The letter to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) also emphasizes the importance of testing for biometrics, as a developing field.

“The bottom line for AI is you need independent groups of scientists measuring outcomes and real world results to know the impact of these systems,” Howard writes. “Our lab has pioneered new evaluation techniques in how to do so, particularly around testing #equitability and #fairness. We hope to see more of this in the future.”

In a similar LinkedIn post, Mitre Corporation Center for Data-Driven Policy S&T Policy Lead Duane Blackburn called out the “staggering amount of mis- and disinformation being peddled as policy communities investigate biometrics.”

The 12-page response to the OSTP RFI from Mitre urges the OSTP to follow the policy of the White House National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), and international vocabulary standards, which the RFI’s definition of “biometrics” does not.

The Mitre letter says the office should avoid hyperbole and stick to evidence and science as basis for policy-making, by ensuring its activities conform with the Foundations of Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018 and the NSTC’s Protecting the Integrity of Government Science report.

Mitre also calls for policies on biometrics to be specific and nuanced to take into account various technical, operational, and policy considerations, and make use of the expertise and experience in the field already present within the government.

The company warned of a “face recognition literacy gap” exemplified by misrepresentations of NIST test results in 2020.

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