Facial Recognition Has Already Reached Its Breaking Point

Facial Recognition Has Already Reached Its Breaking Point

As facial recognition technologies have evolved from fledgling projects into powerful software platforms, researchers and civil liberties advocates have been issuing warnings about the potential for privacy erosions. Those mounting fears came to a head Wednesday in Congress.

Alarms over facial recognition had already gained urgency in recent years, as studies have shown that the systems still produce relatively high rates of false positives, and consistently contain racial and gender biases. Yet the technology has proliferated unchecked in the US, spreading among law enforcement agencies at every level of government, as well as among private employers and schools. At a hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, the lack of regulation garnered bipartisan concern.

"Fifty million cameras [used for surveillance in the US]. A violation of people's First Amendment, Fourth Amendment liberties, due process liberties. All kinds of mistakes. Those mistakes disproportionately affect African Americans," marveled Representative Jim Jordan, the Republican of Ohio. "No elected officials gave the OK for the states or for the federal government, the FBI, to use this. There should probably be some kind of restrictions. It seems to me it's time for a time-out."

Lily Hay Newman covers information security, digital privacy, and hacking for WIRED.

The hearing's panel of experts—an assortment of legal scholars, privacy advocates, algorithmic bias researchers, and a career law enforcement officer—largely echoed that assessment. Most directly called for a moratorium on government use of facial recognition systems until Congress can pass legislation that adequately restricts and regu ..

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