Racial Profiling Of New Age: What Is Police Facial-ID Tech?

A new report says that 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.

More than 40 civil rights and other groups signed the letter calling for investigation into the use — and possible abuse — of a new police facial-recognition technology. Why? Let us find out:

Atlanta Black Star

It’s common knowledge that African-Americans oftentimes suffer the brunt of implicit (and explicit) racial bias from law enforcement personnel. But what about the high-tech systems used by police to capture and analyze images of potential crime suspects? Could this widely used technology be the new culprit behind racial profiling?

According to a new report out of Georgetown University law school’s Center for Privacy & Technology, half of all American adults have their likeness stored in at least one facial recognition database that’s searchable by police. However, the growing use of these systems has resulted in a disproportionate racial impact on Black citizens.

Image courtesy of SpaceOTechnologies.com

Because African-Americas are more likely to be arrested and have their mug shots taken — which is the main way images end up in police databases — the facial recognition technology essentially ups the likelihood of Blacks being singled out as potential crime suspects. Even those who may be innocent are mixed in with the suspects, the report states.

“This is a serious problem, and no one is working to fix it,” said Alvaro M. Bedoya, executive director of Georgetown’s Center for Privacy & Technology. “Police departments are talking about it as if it’s race-blind, and it’s just not true.” See more

The Washington Post

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.

Several law enforcement agencies also have expressed interest in real-time facial-recognition technology, potentially giving police the ability to instantly identify people walking by a camera posted on a city street — or attending a political protest that authorities are recording, the report says.

A coalition of civil rights and civil liberties groups, provided with advance copies of the Georgetown report, plans to deliver a sharply worded letter to the Justice Department’s civil rights division on Tuesday calling for investigation into the use — and possible abuse — of facial-recognition technology.

That is worrying, said Wilson, who is African American and in North Dakota protesting a pipeline construction project. “It worries me so much that I cover my face when I go out and protest,” Wilson said. “It really is scary to think that they’re tracking you.” See more

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