Facial recognition technology, which is in the very early stages of development, is too undependable and prone to inaccuracy to deploy as a law enforcement tool.
That’s why Ohio Attorney General David Yost did the right thing last week in pressing the ”pause button” on its potential use by more than 4,500 Ohio law enforcement officers.
Yost’s decision came after The Washington Post reported that federal law enforcement officials have mined Bureau of Motor Vehicle photo databases nationwide — without the approval of Congress or state legislatures and without the knowledge or consent of millions of drivers with no criminal records.
Also, if there was any belief about facial recognition being ready for prime time, it was erased by a software test conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union. That test saw the mug shots of two dozen members of the California Legislature being identified as matches for criminals, according to the Sacremento Bee.
Up until then, facial recognition technology was being heralded as an important crime-fighting tool. It presented officers with a first step in identifying a possible criminal suspect or wanted person. The officer could take a photograph of the suspect and feed it into a database, which would produce photos with similar parameters.
Yost emphasized Ohio has experienced no misuse of the state’s facial recognition system, but said the state will back off facial recognition testing until officers can be better trained on the use and limitations of the technology. This includes the fact that facial recognition technologies are more likely to wrongly identify people of color, women and young people.
The problems we are now experiencing with facial recognition serve as two reminders:
• While technology certainly has provided police with useful tools to keep communities safe, a society under constant technological surveillance can pose an unprecedented threat to our civil rights. No one wants to be stripped of their dignity by being handcuffed and detained when they’ve done nothing wrong. A case of mistaken identity also can turn into a dangerous situation when a police officer thinks they’re dealing with a wanted or dangerous criminal instead of an innocent citizen.
• If it were not for the media — in this case the Washington Post — we would have never known that not only is our data being used without our knowledge, but the results saw innocent people being investigated and accused of crimes.