The Los Angeles Police Commission approved a policy Tuesday that set new parameters on the LAPD's use of facial recognition technology, but stopped far short of the outright ban sought by many city activists. The move followed promises by the commission to review the Los Angeles Police Department's use of photo-comparison software in September, after The Times reported that officers had used the technology -- contrary to department claims -- more than 30,000 times since 2009. The new policy restricts LAPD detectives and other trained officers to using a single software platform operated by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, which only uses mugshots and is far less expansive than some third-party search platforms. It also mandates new measures for tracking the Police Department's use of the county system and its outcomes in the crime fight. Commissioners and top police executives praised the policy as a step in the right direction, saying it struck the right balance between protecting people's civil liberties and giving cops the tools they need to solve and reduce crime -- which is on the rise.
In a recent New Yorker article about the Capitol siege, Ronan Farrow described how investigators used a bevy of online data and facial recognition technology to confirm the identity of Larry Rendall Brock Jr., an Air Force Academy graduate and combat veteran from Texas. Brock was photographed inside the Capitol carrying zip ties, presumably to be used to restrain someone. Brock was arrested Sunday and charged with two counts.) Even as they stormed the Capitol, many rioters stopped to pose for photos and give excited interviews on livestream. Each photo uploaded, message posted, and stream shared created a torrent of data for police, researchers, activists, and journalists to archive and analyze.
At the same time, there was indeed more action. In one major victory, Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM banned or suspended their sale of face recognition to law enforcement, after the killing of George Floyd spurred global protests against police brutality. It was the culmination of two years of fighting by researchers and civil rights activists to demonstrate the ineffective and discriminatory effects of the companies' technologies. Another change was small yet notable: for the first time ever, NeurIPS, one of the most prominent AI research conferences, required researchers to submit an ethics statement with their papers. So here we are at the start of 2021, with more public and regulatory attention on AI's influence than ever before.
In 1964, the Civil Rights Act barred the humans who made hiring decisions from discriminating on the basis of sex or race. Now, software often contributes to those hiring decisions, helping managers screen résumés or interpret video interviews. That worries some tech experts and civil rights groups, who cite evidence that algorithms can replicate or magnify biases shown by people. In 2018, Reuters reported that Amazon scrapped a tool that filtered résumés based on past hiring patterns because it discriminated against women. Legislation proposed in the New York City Council seeks to update hiring discrimination rules for the age of algorithms.
A New Jersey man is suing the town of Woodbridge and its police department after he was falsely arrested following an incorrect facial recognition match. Nijeer Parks spent 10 days in jail last year, including a week in "functional solitary confinement," following a shoplifting incident that January. After officers were called to a Hampton Inn in Woodbridge, the alleged shoplifter presented them with a Tennessee driver's license, which they determined was fake. When they attempted to arrest him after spotting what appeared to be a bag of marijuana in his pocket, the man fled in his rental car. One officer said he had to leap out of the way or he would have been hit.
Facial recognition technology is known to have flaws. In 2019, a national study of over 100 facial recognition algorithms found that they did not work as well on Black and Asian faces. Two other Black men -- Robert Williams and Michael Oliver, both of whom live in the Detroit, Mich., area -- were also arrested for crimes they did not commit based on bad facial recognition matches. Like Mr. Parks, Mr. Oliver filed a lawsuit against the city over the wrongful arrest. Nathan Freed Wessler, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who believes that police should stop using face recognition technology, said the three cases demonstrate "how this technology disproportionately harms the Black community."
President Trump reacts to the media and Big Tech's role in politics in a'Sunday Morning Futures' exclusive. The year 2020 proved to be a pivotal one in tech, as companies provided essential services during the coronavirus pandemic and unveiled 5G telecom technology while facing unprecedented antitrust scrutiny and accusations of censorship amid an intense election and social justice movement. "I think sometimes we hear that … U.S. innovation is slowing down, and I think the last year has shown that that's not really the case," Neil Chilson, senior research fellow for tech and innovation at the Charles Koch Institute, told Fox News. Chilson gave examples of the country's rapid COVID-19 vaccine development, SpaceX's astronaut launch in May and autonomous driving company Waymo's recent announcement that its self-driving cars will be completely autonomous in trials in Phoenix. "I'm pretty excited about the future. I think 2020 shows that the U.S. is still the world leader in tech and innovation, and we should continue to maintain our cultural appreciation for innovation and a regulatory environment that enables it," he said.
Let's talk about the good things that happened this year. Yes, 2020 has been a relentless nightmare that's unspooled at rapidly shifting speeds -- and it's showing no signs of magically abating as the clock strikes 12 this New Year's Eve. But you, who by some combination of luck or fate are still thinking and breathing, know this already. What you may be less aware of, however, is that despite the undeniable pain and tragedy 2020 has wrought, there are developments worth celebrating. While each passing year seemingly brings with it news of further digital indignities thrust upon your life, 2020 witnessed genuine progress when it comes to protecting your privacy.
Google this year moved to tighten control over its scientists' papers by launching a "sensitive topics" review, and in at least three cases requested authors refrain from casting its technology in a negative light, according to internal communications and interviews with researchers involved in the work. Google's new review procedure asks that researchers consult legal, policy and public relations teams before pursuing topics such as face and sentiment analysis and categorizations of race, gender or political affiliation, according to internal webpages explaining the policy. "Advances in technology and the growing complexity of our external environment are increasingly leading to situations where seemingly inoffensive projects raise ethical, reputational, regulatory or legal issues," one of the pages for research staff stated. Reuters could not determine the date of the post, though three current employees said the policy began in June. Google declined to comment for this story.
The American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation and more than a dozen other civil rights groups have objected to Customs and Border Protection's plan to expand use of facial recognition at border entry and exit points. The Department of Homeland Security proposed a rule change last month that would authorize CBP to photograph foreign nationals at any point of departure, including airports and seaports. Those captured images can be used to create faceprints. Under the current rules, non-citizens may only be required to provide biometric data at land ports and up to 15 airports and seaports as part of pilot programs. DHS aims to lift the limit on the number of entry points where the program can take place and to remove references to "pilot programs" from the rules.