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Facial Recognition Technology – A Criminal Offense?

Facial Recognition Technology – A Criminal Offense?

Is it possible that security technology is criminal in nature?

Sounds like that line of irrational thinking is what is behind one of the more puzzling decisions made just last week by the Baltimore City Council’s Public Safety & Government Operations Committee.

The committee’s mind-boggling move on May 26 to advance a proposal that would ban nearly all applications of facial recognition technology in the city raises one simple question – What were you thinking?

There’s no good reason to explain how facial recognition technology is a detriment to businesses and consumers, especially with the security benefits that this essential technology provides on a national scale.

In fact, before the Baltimore committee voted to ban facial recognition technology in the city, the Security Industry Association (SIA) and other leading technology and business groups wrote a letter to the committee expressing concerns about the profound negative impact of the measure for residents of Baltimore.

The letter’s main point to the committee was clear – “Prohibiting Baltimoreans from having access to opt-in customer experience conveniences, whether in retail, health care or other settings, is much broader than the concerns raised around law enforcement and government applications that seem to be the basis for the ordinance.”

Among the applications that would be banned under the ordinance are:

  • Increased and customized accessibility for disabled persons
  • Emergency systems to determine building occupant status following an evacuation order during a fire or other life-threatening event
  • Health care facilities to verify patient identities while reducing the need for close-proximity interpersonal interactions
  • COVID-19 mitigation applications for business operations, allowing users to verify identities for vaccine validation, test results and other information
  • In-home electronic devices with facial recognition, such as smart baby monitors
  • Banks to enhance consumer security to verify purchases and access ATMs Remote online identity document verification, such as those used for online sellers or gig economy workers
  • Automobiles to unlock doors, start motors and adjust seats, mirrors and climate control systems
  • Hotels to recognize loyal customers, speed check-in and unlock rooms

What would be the proverbial sacrificial lamb if all of these applications would be prohibited? SECURITY!

How could you even think of banning essential security technology at such a critical time in our country? You want to make it more difficult for disabled people to identify themselves when they walk into a healthcare facility for a COVID-19 vaccine? You want anyone to just walk into a bank and potentially use a stolen ATM card to take out money without identity verification? Where is the logic here?

SIA has been a strong advocate for the benefits that facial recognition technology provides for the public and private sector.

As outlined on SIA’s website, the association “believes all technology products, including facial recognition, must only be used for purposes that are lawful, ethical and nondiscriminatory. Facial recognition technology makes our country safer and brings value to our everyday lives when used effectively and responsibly.”

In August 2020, SIA released new policy principles for the development and deployment of facial recognition technology, which include guidelines around the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement and the public and private sectors.

An obviously disappointed SIA CEO Don Erickson noted who will hurt the most from this outlandish measure.

“Unfortunately, an outright ban on facial recognition continues a distressing pattern in which the clear value of this technology is ignored. In such cases, it is local businesses and residents who stand to lose the most,” he said. “SIA remains a willing participant in any genuine discussion that could lead to more rational policymaking.”

Amen, Mr. Erickson. There was certainly no rational policymaking involved in approving this ridiculous measure.

Portland, Oregon, was the first city to outlaw facial recognition technology in September 2020. On the heels of Baltimore’s head-scratching vote, let’s hope other American cities do not follow suit. Security is only going to suffer, when it should only be enhanced.


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