Civil-liberties concerns have driven California lawmakers to consider Assembly Bill 1215, which would ban police agencies from using facial and biometric tracking devices as part of their body cameras.
"Having every patrol officer constantly scanning faces of everyone that walks into their field of view to identify people, run their records, and record their location and activities is positively Orwellian," said ACLU attorney Peter Bibring.
This technology is creepy, especially when one considers the next step that's under active development: Tying facial-recognition software into security cameras that are practically everywhere. The bill's author, Assemblyman Phil Ting (D–San Francisco), points to an incident in China where the authorities used recognition software to grab someone from a crowd of 20,000 people during a concert.
Opponents of the ban naively insist that there's no difference between using such software and looking at a mugshot—and that police are still required to follow the Constitution's Fourth Amendment restraints on unreasonable searches. That's nonsensical. Police admit that they want to use these cameras as part of wholesale dragnets, by scanning everyone at public events and not only those that they suspect of having committed a crime.
In its official opposition to the bill, the Riverside Sheriffs' Association argues that, "Huge events…and scores of popular tourist attractions should have access to the best available security—including the use of body cameras and facial-recognition technology." There you have it. The goal of police is to scan our faces at every event.
According to the Assembly analysis, the ACLU used such software to compare photos of all federal legislators and "incorrectly matched 28 members of Congress with people who had been arrested. The test disproportionately misidentified African-American and Latino members of Congress as the people in mug shots." The company that produced the software disputed the ACLU's approach, but this is disturbing, especially in terms of racial bias.
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