Facial Recognition Scrutinized in Massachusetts Legislature

The flaws inherent to facial recognition systems have drawn the focus of two state lawmakers, who are pushing for a moratorium on the use of the technology in government.

by Marie Szaniszlo, Boston Herald / June 10, 2019
The Massachusetts state Capitol (David Kidd)

(TNS) — The use of facial recognition technology — currently unregulated in Massachusetts and much of the nation — is under scrutiny on Beacon Hill and elsewhere, amid new concerns about its accuracy and how it is being used.

State Sen. Cynthia Creem (D-Newton) and Rep. David Rogers (D-Cambridge) have introduced legislation that would impose a moratorium on government use of facial recognition technology in Massachusetts.

“There’s no protocols about who uses it and how it’s used,” Creem said. “It raises the specter of a dragnet surveillance that can track anyone anywhere they’re going. Under other circumstances, you need a warrant to search things. How much is Big Sister going to be watching us, and we have no control?”

Studies have found that the accuracy of facial recognition systems can vary, depending on the demographics of the person being searched.

The technology often has a harder time identifying minorities and women, compared with white men, said Clare Garvie, a senior associate at the Georgetown Law School’s Center on Privacy and Technology. Her center found that in New York City; Washington, D.C.; and Jacksonville, Fla., people were being arrested almost solely through facial recognition technology, she said, and defendants weren’t being told how they were identified.

“This is a violation of people’s right to a fair trial,” Garvie said. “Law enforcement should not be using secret technology on their communities. Communities should be the ones who decide when and how law enforcement can use this technology.”

This year, Joy Buolamwini of the MIT Media Lab and Deborah Raji of the University of Toronto published “Actionable Auditing: Investigating the Impact of Publicly Naming Biased Performance Results of Commercial AI (Artificial Intelligence) Products.” They found that Amazon’s Rekognition software often misidentified women as men, especially darker-skinned women. Amazon has contested the findings.

Last month, San Francisco became the nation’s first city to ban municipal use of facial recognition surveillance. Somerville may be the next.

“We also take our right to privacy seriously,” Somerville Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone said. “This form of technology is unregulated and often results in false identification and bias against minorities. There also is a consequential chilling effect on free speech and community activism.”

©2019 the Boston Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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