A report released Tuesday found a database of 117 million law-abiding Americans is being used by police for facial recognition of suspects, which may constitute violations of civil liberties.
The Georgetown University Law Center found 16 states are using the database in investigations to create virtual lineups in investigations and is calling on Congress to enact laws to limit its use to criminal investigations.
The concern, researchers say, is that the database could used to monitor political or religious speech. The database also was found to contain a disproportionate number of African-Americans, raising other civil liberty issues because the algorithm is less accurate with pictures of black people and there is no method for determining racially-based errors.
“Face recognition is a powerful technology that requires strict oversight,” Clare Garvie, an associate at the Georgetown University Law Center and author of the report, said in a press release. “But those controls by and large don’t exist today. With only a few exceptions, there are no laws governing police use of the technology, no standards ensuring its accuracy and no systems checking for bias. It’s a wild west.”
Among the recent uses raising concern among Georgetown researchers are police in Maryland during recent racially-charged riots related to alleged abuse by police, where people may have been identified in ways considered to be improper.
Maryland police have also used the database for robbery investigations and theft and fraud causes. Police say, however, it has not been used often to identify suspects.
In the report, researchers suggest the databases should be limited to using police photographs, not driver’s licenses and other forms of identification, law enforcement should eliminate innocent people from searches, any searches that do include driver’s licenses should require a court order and an ban should be placed on any tracking of people for political or religious beliefs, race or ethnicity.
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