Recent Comments

    Dangers of Facial Recognition Technology

    By Assemblymember Phil Ting–

    While facial recognition technology is a cool way to unlock your smartphone, it is not ready for prime time. Case in point: the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recently ran the photos of all 120 California lawmakers against an arrest database, and the software incorrectly matched mugshots with 26 legislators, including me—even though I have never been arrested. What’s also disturbing is that more than half of the falsely identified were people of color.

    A similar test was conducted using the pictures of members of Congress, and that, too, produced incorrect matches: twenty-eight of them. Given the mistakes and apparent bias, the results from this experiment reinforce the need for AB 1215, my proposal to ban law enforcement from adding facial recognition and other biometric scanners to body-worn cameras. I could see innocent Californians subjected to perpetual police lineups because of faulty technology. We cannot let this happen.

    Such inaccuracies led Axon, one of the largest manufacturers of police body cameras, to prohibit facial recognition programs in its products. Microsoft also had the same concerns, particularly the high error rate among women and people of color, when it declined to sell facial recognition software to a California law enforcement agency.

    Furthermore, body cameras are tools to increase police accountability and transparency. When there’s an officer-involved shooting, the footage can let the public know whether procedures were followed and help police rebuild trust in the communities they serve. The addition of facial recognition programs would essentially transform body cameras into taxpayer-funded 24-hour surveillance tools without our consent.

    That happened in the City of Detroit, where police have been quietly using facial recognition technology to make arrests. While their software was installed in hundreds of city cameras, not body cameras, the problems are the same: authorities can track your every movement and gather information on you.

    This potential for civil rights abuse is exactly why the City of San Francisco banned its departments from using facial recognition technology. Imagine it being used at any one of California’s public spaces where law-abiding citizens going about their business are secretly surveilled and their images generated to run through a mugshot database. If my colleagues and I were mistakenly flagged as suspects, could you be next?

    This is not the kind of state we want. Even an arrest that does not result in charges or a conviction stays on your record, and can prevent people from getting jobs and housing. Clearing your record is possible, but the process is a hassle that requires time and money.

    Facial recognition technology in police body cameras does not make us safer. It would only turn us into a police state. AB 1215 should be signed into law.

    Phil Ting represents the 19th Assembly District, which includes the Westside of San Francisco along with the communities of Broadmoor, Colma and Daly City.