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Facial Recognition Technology: Notes of Caution for Privacy, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

This month's Government Analytics Breakfast Forum featured Alvaro Bedoya, Clare Garvie and Jonathan Frankle of Georgetown Law's Center on Privacy & Technology for a discussion about the privacy concerns raised by law enforcement's increasing reliance on facial recognition technology.

Facial recognition technology can be used to both verify a person's identify and identify an unknown individual.  It has both positive and negative applications.  For example, many would argue that being able to pay for something with facial recognition would be highly convenient (Google is experimenting with this).  On the other hand, a store owner using facial recognition to target potential shoplifters raises serious concerns about the invasion of privacy and racial profiling.

Racial profiling is, indeed, one of the biggest concerns with increased use of facial recognition technology.  The few studies that have been done demonstrate that existing technologies are significantly less accurate when identifying individuals who are not old, white and/or male.  There are many disturbing implications of inaccurate facial recognition, including the labeling of innocent people as crime suspects.

There are currently very few limits on how law enforcement agencies can use facial recognition.  Going forward, policymakers at both the state and federal should devote attention to developing a legal framework that governs the use of this powerful technology. 

A recording of the event can be viewed here.


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