Racial profiling, by a computer? Police facial-ID tech raises civil rights concerns. – The Washington Post

The next frontier of combatting profiling:

The growing use of facial-recognition systems has led to a high-tech form of racial profiling, with African Americans more likely than others to have their images captured, analyzed and reviewed during computerized searches for crime suspects, according to a new report based on records from dozens of police departments.

The report, released Tuesday by the Center for Privacy & Technology at Georgetown University’s law school, found that half of all American adults have their images stored in at least one facial-recognition database that police can search, typically with few restrictions.

The steady expansion of these systems has led to a disproportionate racial impact because African Americans are more likely to be arrested and have mug shots taken, one of the main ways that images end up in police databases. The report also found that criminal databases are rarely “scrubbed” to remove the images of innocent people, nor are facial-recognition systems routinely tested for accuracy, even though some struggle to distinguish among darker-skinned faces.

The combination of these factors means that African Americans are more likely to be singled out as possible suspects in crimes — including ones they did not commit, the report says.

“This is a serious problem, and no one is working to fix it,” said Alvaro M. Bedoya, executive director of the Georgetown Law center that produced the report on facial-recognition technology. “Police departments are talking about it as if it’s race-blind, and it’s just not true.”

The 150-page report, called “The Perpetual Line-Up,” found a rapidly growing patchwork of facial-recognition systems at the federal, state and local level with little regulation and few legal standards. Some databases include mug shots, others driver’s-license photos. Some states, such as Maryland and Pennsylvania, use both as they analyze crime-scene images in search of potential suspects.

At least 117 million Americans have images of their faces in one or more police databases, meaning their resemblance to images taken from crime scenes can become the basis for follow-up by investigators. The FBI ran a pilot program this year in which it could search the State Department’s passport and visa databases for leads in criminal cases. Overall, the Government Accountability Office reported in May, the FBI has had access to 412 million facial images for searches; the faces of some Americans appear several times in these databases.

Source: Racial profiling, by a computer? Police facial-ID tech raises civil rights concerns. – The Washington Post

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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