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Recognize Facial Recognition!

Recognize Facial Recognition!

I guess the Baltimore City Council didn’t read my blog from two weeks ago. It should have.

Maybe the council would have reconsidered the unfathomable decision it made on June 8 to approve what would be the most extreme ban by a local jurisdiction on personal and business applications of facial recognition technology. 

The vote was 13-2 in favor of the ban, which would most certainly place security on the backburner at a time when security should be front and center on the priority list, especially with the rash of cyberattacks crippling our nation as of late.

It must be noted that one of the two nays came from Baltimore Councilmember Yitzy Schleifer, who stated during the vote that “this is backwards.” Schleifer and fellow Councilmember Eric Costello cited the impact that banning facial recognition technology would have on securing financial transactions, as well as software that helps the hotel industry and others fight human trafficking, among the applications that would benefit residents of Baltimore.

Upon hearing the Council’s vote, Security Industry Association (SIA) CEO Don Erickson called the decision an “inexplicable outcome,” while also offering a solution to Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott on how facial recognition technology can be effectively utilized by businesses and government entities.

“SIA respectfully urges the Mayor to reject the proposal passed by the Council and instead appoint a balanced commission of citizen and privacy advocates, law enforcement personnel and private sector representatives to recommend guidelines within the next 180 days governing the use of facial recognition by business and government agencies,” Erickson said in his response. “Lowering the temperature of the debate over facial recognition through more careful study and input during this period of time may produce a better outcome that can be supported by all stakeholders.”

I enjoy when the blogs that SSN Editor Paul Ragusa and I generate each week illicit insightful feedback from our readership in the security industry. When I wrote my initial blog on why banning facial recognition makes absolutely no sense, I received an impassioned response from Jon Polly, PSP, IC3PM, Chief Solutions Officer, ProTecht Solutions Partners, supporting my stance on how cities like Baltimore, Portland and Seattle are practically making facial recognition technology a criminal offense.

Rather than edit down Polly’s response, here is his statement in its entirety:

“Cory, you are absolutely correct that Baltimore (as is Portland and Seattle) are trying to criminalize facial recognition, and my personal belief is they should be following SIA's principles instead of a blanket no.

The city chose to ban all public safety facial recognition; again, this was probably a knee-jerk reaction. But then there was a direct attack on the consumer. No in-home facial recognition (does this apply to the iPhone facial recognition)? No facial recognition to start cars (so no Teslas allowed in the city)? No ADA enhancements to help disabled individuals? These are opt-in consents that the consumer has asked for. If they choose not to use the function, they can opt-out. This is an overstep of the city in every way possible.

I get there are over 500 companies that claim they have facial recognition. Since there are no standards, every company can claim its own benchmark accuracy. Questions about how the AI was trained, what type of faces it used, etc. are what opponents of the technology bring up. Yes, there needs to be a standard or at least a benchmark. The simple point is facial recognition is part of everyone's everyday life, they may just not know it.”

And just to add fuel to the facial recognition technology fire, just yesterday, Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), along with Representatives Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) and Rashida Tlaib (MI-13), reintroduced legislation to stop government use of biometric technology, including facial recognition tools.

The Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act responds to reports that hundreds of local, state, and federal entities, including law enforcement agencies, have used unregulated facial recognition technologies and research showing  that roughly half of U.S. adults are already in facial recognition databases.

This legislation would:

  • Place a prohibition on the use of facial recognition technology by federal entities, which can only be lifted with an act of Congress;
  • Place a prohibition on the use of other biometric technologies, including voice recognition, gate recognition, and recognition of other immutable physical characteristics, by federal entities, which can only be lifted with an act of Congress;
  • Condition federal grant funding to state and local entities, including law enforcement, on those entities enacting their own moratoria on the use of facial recognition and biometric technology;
  • Prohibit the use of federal dollars for biometric surveillance systems;
  • Prohibit the use of information collected via biometric technology in violation of the Act in any judicial proceedings;
  • Provide a private right of action for individuals whose biometric data is used in violation of the Act and allow for enforcement by state Attorneys General; and
  • Allow states and localities to enact their own laws regarding the use of facial recognition and biometric technologies.

In response to the reintroduction of this act, SIA announced its “strong opposition,” noting that it would “impose a blanket ban on most federal, state and local use of nearly all biometric and related image analytics technologies, which threatens the legitimate, documented benefits of facial recognition technologies used by law enforcement, including:

  • Identifying individuals who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6
  • Reuniting victims of human trafficking with their families and loved ones
  • Detecting use of fraudulent documentation by non-citizens at airports of entry
  • Aiding counterterrorism investigations in critical situations
  • Exonerating innocent individuals accused of crimes”

“Rather than impose sweeping moratoriums, SIA encourages Congress to propose balanced legislation that promulgates reasonable safeguards to ensure that facial recognition technology is used ethically, responsibly and under appropriate oversight and that the United States remains the global leader in driving innovation,” Erickson said.

Security and innovation. Two reasons why facial recognition technology should be preserved, not taken away.


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