Should police use facial-recognition technology on body cameras?

Jun 29, 2019, 7:28 AM
facial recognition...
(KIRO 7)
(KIRO 7)

Facial-recognition technology in police body cameras appears to have been delayed for the indefinite future. Axon, the company that produces them, recently announced that it will not incorporate the technology in its devices.

While the Seattle Police Department ceased using facial recognition a year ago, the Axon news is nonetheless a relief to local opponents of the technology.

Shankar Narayan of the Washington ACLU joined the Candy, Mike and Todd Show to discuss the announcement and what the next steps with facial recognition should look like.

“Although this is overall a positive development it’s actually a very limited one that we shouldn’t rush to overreact to. They didn’t actually say that they will never incorporate facial recognition into a body camera. What they did say is that they thought that right now the technology wasn’t accurate enough, particularly for people of color, vulnerable populations to be safely incorporated into a body camera,” Narayan said.

/.”But they explicitly did not take up this broader question about their faith that surveillance can ever be deployed ethically. They sort of kick that can down the road and said we will deal with that once we figure out the accuracy issues around the technology, and of course what that presupposes is that the thing to do is to continue to develop this dangerous technology and make it more accurate without thinking right now about whether it can ever be deployed fairly.”

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According the Seattle Times, Axon decided to temporarily shelve facial recognition because it could be inconsistent in identification when tested across numerous genders and races, as indicated by research showing the technology is less accurate with darker-skin people.

California’s Legislature is considering a statewide ban on facial recognition, and in May San Francisco became the first city to enact a ban for its use by police. Somerville, Massachusetts has also banned it, and Berkeley and Oakland are considering it. Is there a reason Seattle hasn’t?

While Narayan is pleased that SPD stopped using it a year ago, he’d like to see the city council go further.

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“I think it would still be appropriate for Seattle lawmakers to step up and say, ‘No we don’t want this widespread ability for the government to track people when they’re moving around in public to determine if they’re happy, angry or dangerous,” he said. “There are all of these really challenging potential uses that would also of course impact communities that are already over-policed because that’s where more of the cameras are.”

Listen to The Candy, Mike, and Todd Show weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Should police use facial-recognition technology on body cameras?