How facial recognition can destroy anonymity


Go out public used to make a person largely anonymous. Unless you met someone you knew, no one would know your identity. Inexpensive and widely available face recognition software means this is no longer the case in some parts of the world. Chinese police use face algorithms on public security cameras in real time, providing notifications whenever a person of interest passes by.

China provides a extreme example opportunities arising from recent improvements in facial recognition technology. Once reserved for large government agencies, technology is now integrated Phone (s, social networks, doorbells, public schoolsand small police services.

This ubiquity means that while the technology seems more powerful than ever, the fallout from mistakes is also greater. Last week the ACLU sued Detroit Police Department on behalf of Robert Williams, arrested in 2019 after facial recognition software incorrectly matched the photo on his driver’s license to murky surveillance footage of a suspected shoplifter. Williams is black and tested by the US government showed that many commercial facial recognition tools make more false matches of non-white faces.

In the United States, the government’s use of facial recognition is much cheaper than in China, but there is no federal law restricting the technology. This means law enforcement can do whatever they want. Georgetown University researchers revealed in 2019 that Detroit and Chicago had purchased facial recognition systems capable of scanning public cameras in real time. At the time, Chicago claimed not to have used this function; Detroit said it didn’t then.

Almost 20 American cities, including Jackson, Mississippi, and Boston, Massachusetts, have passed laws to restrict government use of facial recognition. Portland, Oregon, went further –excluding private companies the installation of technology. Some federal lawmakers have also expressed interest in placing limits on face algorithms.

The outcome of any federal legislation will be determined in part by the industry that sells the technology. A analysis by WIRED in November found that facial recognition mentions in congressional lobbying filings more than quadrupled from 2018 to 2019 and were on track to set a new high in 2020.


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