NYC grocery stores fight proposed facial recognition ban
Grocery store owners in New York City oppose a bill that would limit use of facial recognition software, saying the algorithms reduce shoplifting. The measure, introduced to the city council early last month, calls for businesses to inform customers and get their written consent before using biometric recognition on them or face a $5,000 fine.
James Dolan, owner of the New York Knicks and Rangers, spurred the legislation, which now has 15 sponsors on the council. Dolan uses facial recognition to prevent lawyers entering his properties if their law firms have ongoing legal action against his extensive holdings.
At a hearing last month, Avi Kaner, co-owner of the Morton Williams supermarket chain testified that small businesses cannot combat theft effectively without tools including facial recognition. Kaner told news website The Messenger he has had to hire off-duty New York police officers for the chains 16 locations at a cost of over $1 million to cut shoplifting.
Other grocery store owners The Messenger spoke to echo his sentiments, pointing out that they could be forced to close shops without the tool.
Jay Peltz of the Food Industry Alliance of New York State trade association told the publication that if biometric identifiers cannot be collected, it would hurt prevention efforts and law enforcement’s ability to identify repeat offenders.
Those in favor of the bill argue that the systems are invasive and have a history of struggling to differentiate people with dark skin as reliably as light-skinned people.
New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who also opposes the surveillance, cited a 2019 Massachusetts Institute of Technology finding that facial recognition software marketed by Amazon misidentified darker-skinned women 31 percent of the time.
According to Daniel Schwarz, speaking on behalf of the New York Civil Liberties Union, problems with face-scanning surveillance tools go behind errors. They increase the unwarranted monitoring of innocent people’s identities, movements and social interactions.
Despite these claims, Derk Boss, president of the International Society of Certified Surveillance Professionals, argues that facial recognition technology has become more accurate.
Boss says data from the National Institute of Standards and Technology indicates that executives just have to research what they want to buy. NIST, he says, has found that systems with higher precision are less prone to race or gender errors.
This news comes shortly after a group of United Nations officials expressed concern over the increasing use of biometric surveillance and other AI in sensitive contexts and without individuals’ knowledge or consent. They urged more transparency, oversight and regulation to prevent the misuse of algorithms.