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NGOs sound alarm over facial recognition systems’ lack of transparency in Latin America

NGOs sound alarm over facial recognition systems’ lack of transparency in Latin America

The Al Sur NGO consortium has published a new report calling facial recognition implementation by some Latin American governments ‘perverse.’

The 25-page document, spotted by IPVM, aggregates data on 38 public-sector facial recognition implementations across nine Latin American countries.

The data was gathered by ten (out of 11) of Al Sur’s Latin American NGOs between April and May 2021 via information access requests, open-source research, and interviews with public officials and industry employees.

Based on the findings, the report claims that many of the public-sector biometrics deployments examined have been executed with little or no privacy considerations for the public.

More specifically, the document claims the majority of the mentioned implementations (60 percent) lacked a legal basis, and many of those that did were based on a broad interpretation of prevailing laws.

Conversely, Al Sur said that laws specifically relating to biometrics’ data collection were scarce, resulting in unethical deployments of the technology.

“In the opinion of the various local experts, none of the regulations used to justify the implementation of facial recognition systems offers adequate treatment from a human rights point of view.”

The consortium added how the vast majority of facial recognition systems were deployed by governments without any public consultation. The only exception was a surveillance system in Chile.

Many of these biometrics systems were also reportedly deployed with no evidence of studies or assessments before or after installation and with little or no external auditing practices.

Face biometrics technology providers mentioned in the report for their “alleged involvement in human rights violations” outside of Latin America (but having deployed systems in the region) include Hikvision, Idemia, and FaceWatch.

Additionally, the report criticized China-based surveillance firm Dahua and its allegedly biased algorithms during a deployment in the northern Mexican border state of Coahuila in 2021.

“Regarding the Coahuila Video Intelligence System, Dahua has stated to the press that the algorithms provided have been ‘tropicalized’ to identify the ‘Mexican phenotype,’ suggesting that the company had some access to data on Mexican individuals to train their facial recognition systems,” the Al Sur report reads.

“The initiative was presented to the public shortly after a visit by the governor of Coahuila to China, where he met with the company. Its CEO, Zhijie Li, was present at the launch of the system.”

The report then concludes with a call for actions from governments and companies in regards to their deployments of face biometrics tools.

“The depredation of fundamental rights for the sake of political and economic interests that support the implementation of the different facial recognition systems listed here requires a strong response from civil society against governments that do not seem willing to treat the problem with the necessary seriousness.

“We hope that this report will serve as an input to the fight already being waged by different people, in different locations in Latin America, as well as an incentive for the preparation of tomorrow’s fights.”

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