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Data foundation calls for better control of biometrics in policing

ITIF pushes for adoption and regulation
Categories Biometrics News  |  Law Enforcement
Data foundation calls for better control of biometrics in policing

U.S. President Joe Biden wants Congress to establish clear rules for biometric data policies and tools used in criminal investigations.

Writing in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Biden said there need to be “clear limits on how companies can collect, use and share highly personal data — your internet history, your personal communications, your location, and your health, genetic and biometric data.”

The nonprofit exoneration group the Innocence Project has suggested the government go “a step further.”

In particular, a project analysis published last Friday by Sarah Chu, senior advisor on forensic science policy at the Innocence Project, highlights the limitations of some face recognition algorithms, which have been known to misidentify people of color at higher rates.

These mistakes, Chu says, have led to wrongful arrests in a legislative environment that has no clear regulations for using biometrics in investigations.

To protect data and prevent wrongful convictions again in the future, Chu supports regulating biometric tools used in criminal investigations.

“Doing so would ensure the just application of algorithmic technologies far more efficiently than piecemeal regulation of individual technologies — especially given the constant proliferation of new tools.”

ITIF explores police biometrics, other tech

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) has also recently explored biometrics and other bleeding-edge technologies for police applications.

A foundation report published last week highlights the benefits of such technologies and encourages adoption but agrees with the Innocence Project that policymakers should enact regulations.

“Banning this promising set of technologies would cut law enforcement and the general public off from the many substantial benefits of police tech,” according to the report.

For instance, ITIF writes that when law enforcement can obtain biometrics evidence from a crime scene, it can use these characteristics to narrow down a pool of suspects or, when a suspect has already been identified, as evidence that the suspect committed a crime.

“Moreover, [banning these technologies] would eliminate opportunities to use technology to address police violence, bias and accountability civil rights groups have been working toward,” according to the report.

Instead, the Department of Justice (DOJ), state lawmakers and police departments, should pursue best practices to reduce abuse, eliminate bias, ensure transparency and promote effectiveness.

These include setting data retention policies for biometric data, mandatory basic cyber hygiene training for police officers and additional research by the DOJ into the effectiveness of police tech.

To discuss the ITIF report findings, several members of the foundation and other entities, participated in a panel discussion last week.

An analysis by Governing shares details about the discussion, which saw the participation of Boston Dynamics’ vice president of policy and government relations, Brendan Schulman; ITIF senior policy analyst Ashley Johnson and ShotSpotter’s vice president of analytics and forensic services, Tom Chittum.

The panel came days after Qiagen bought genomics firm Verogen for $150 million to boost forensic uses of biometrics.

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