Facial Recognition Wrongly Identifies 26 Lawmakers As Criminals

A civil rights campaign group in the US called ACLU has run a demonstration to show how inaccurate facial recognition systems can be.

It ran a picture of every California state legislator through a facial-recognition program that matches facial pictures to a database of 25,000 criminal mugshots. And the results were not encouraging.

It comes after Facebook last week lost a privacy appeal when a federal appeals court rejected its effort to undo a class action lawsuit that claimed it illegally collected and stored biometric data for millions of users without their consent.

Wrongly identified

Now the ACLU ran a test this week of facial recognition technology.

San Francisco and a number of other US cities have already banned the use of facial recognition technology, meaning that local agencies, such as the local police force and other city agencies such as transportation would not be able to utilise the technology in any of their systems.

The ACLU test saw it run a picture of every California state legislator through a facial-recognition program that matches facial pictures to a database of 25,000 criminal mugshots. The test saw the facial recognition program falsely flag 26 legislators as criminals.

And to make matters worse, more than half of the falsely matched lawmakers were people of colour, according to the ACLU.

The ACLU announced the results as it campaigns against the passage of a bill to ban the use of facial recognition technology in police body cameras.

“This experiment reinforces the fact that facial recognition software is not ready for prime time – let alone for use in body cameras worn by law enforcement,” Assembly member Phil Ting, whose photo was flagged as a match to a mugshot, was quoted by CNN as saying in the ACLU’s statement.

Ting and the ACLU have co-sponsored AB 1215, also known as The Body Camera Accountability Act. The bill would ban the use of facial recognition and any biometric surveillance system in police-worn body cameras.

Currently, there are no cities in California that have that technology in their police body cameras, Ting was quoted by CNN as saying at a news conference.

“I could see innocent Californians subjected to perpetual police lineups because of false matches,” Ting reportedly said. “We must not allow this to happen.”

Facial concerns

Facial recognition systems has been previously criticised in the US after research by the Government Accountability Office found that FBI algorithms were inaccurate 14 percent of the time, as well as being more likely to misidentify black people.

Microsoft for example has recently refused to install facial recognition technology for a US police force, due to concerns about artificial intelligence (AI) bias.

It also reportedly deleted a large facial recognition database, that was said to have contained 10 million images that were used to train facial recognition systems.

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Tom Jowitt @TJowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

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