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Oversight may become common feature of facial recognition policies for police

Oversight may become common feature of facial recognition policies for police

The 2023 crop of biometric surveillance legislation in North American is trying to find a balance between public safety and public privacy and in most cases, public oversight is in the mix.

But as recent years have demonstrated, the strongest bills do not always go on to be effective laws, and laws can be gutted or repealed at least as quickly as they were enacted.

Sometimes, as is the case with Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, regulatory action comes as local police agency policy and not a law.

According to the news broadcaster CBC, the police service has purchased BriefCam video-analysis software to plug in to Thunder Bay’s camera network. Police are using in in a limited role in a pilot project.

It is being used as an object recognition search tool, though BriefCam’s software can be used for facial recognition as well.

The city polled residents, according to the CBC’s reporting, and found the public was surprisingly engaged and knowledgeable about the topic.

The results indicated that people favored officers using the analysis software for searching surveillance video, but they also want public oversight on how it is used. It is not uncommon for residents to get vocal about even potential biometric surveillance until a camera appears on a nearby street corner.

Thunder Bay’s police service board reportedly will create a use policy based on poll results.

The news south of the Canadian border, in the United States, is about actual legislation.

A senator in the state of Maryland has reintroduced a bill, including formal oversight, that would require better surveillance practices from police agencies.

A Black man last spring was held in jail for nine days, according to reporting by technology news and culture publication Wired, after facial recognition software identified him as the man who had assaulted a public transportation bus driver.

An analyst using the software on bus video footage agreed with the tentative match and a police officer confirmed that match. But it turned out that just about the only thing the process got right is that a Black man was the suspect.

The man in jail was released when the driver identified his accoster as a Black man 20 years younger than the police’s suspect, seven inches shorter and different in other ways apparent on the video.

The senator’s bill would limit how and when facial recognition can be used. It also would demand annual reports about how algorithms have been used. A complementary lower-house assembly bill has also been introduced.

In the state of Montana, which shares a border with Canada, a senate bill has been put forward that would create 17 sections of state code dealing with facial recognition software in the hands of police.

According to reporting by a local station affiliate of NBC, among the provisions is a ban on state and local governments from “continuously surveilling” people with facial recognition.

Only specific criminal investigations would be able to use the algorithms and all biometric data would have to be destroyed once the need to collect data had been resolved.

And, again, oversight would be accomplished with a number of reviews and reports.

Speaking before the New York City Council, Daniel Schwarz, a privacy and technology strategist with the New York Civil Liberties Union, made the case that oversight is critical.

Reportedly, “dozens” of city police officers have continued using controversial face-scraper Clearview AI in 11,000 searches to try to find suspects in violation of department rules.

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