Cardboard cutouts of Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg stand outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington as he testified before a Senate panel last week. Cardboard cutouts of Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg stand outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington as he testified before a Senate panel last week. A federal judge in California has ruled that Facebook can be sued in a class-action lawsuit brought by users in Illinois who say the social network improperly used facial recognition technology on their uploaded photographs. The plaintiffs are three Illinois Facebook users who sued under a state law that says a private entity such as Facebook can't collect and store a person's biometric facial information without their written consent. The law, known as the Biometric Information Privacy Act, also says that information that uniquely identifies an individual is, in essence, their property.
On Tuesday, news broke that Microsoft refused to sell its facial recognition software to law enforcement in California and an unnamed country. The move led to some praise for the company for being consistent with its policy to oppose questionable human rights applications, but a broader examination of Microsoft's actions in the past year indicates that the company has been saying one thing and doing another. Last week, the Financial Times reported that Microsoft Research Asia worked with a university associated with the Chinese military on facial recognition tech that is being used to monitor the nation's population of Uighur Muslims. Up to 500,000 members of the group, primarily in western China, were monitored over the course of a month, according to a New York Times report. Microsoft defended the work as helpful to advance the technology, but U.S. Senator Marco Rubio called the company complicit in human rights abuses.
Much more rapidly than anyone originally thought possible, facial recognition technology has become part of the cultural mainstream. Facebook, for example, now uses AI-powered facial recognition software as part of its core social networking platform to identify people, while law enforcement agencies around the world have experimented with facial recognition surveillance cameras to reduce crime and improve public safety. But now it looks like society is finally starting to wake up to the immense privacy implications of real-time facial recognition surveillance. For example, San Francisco is now considering an outright ban on facial recognition surveillance. If pending legislation known as "Stop Secret Surveillance" passes, this would make San Francisco the first city ever to ban (and not just regulate) facial recognition technology.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Amazon's controversial facial recognition program, Rekognition, falsely identified 28 members of Congress during a test of the program by the American Civil Liberties Union, the civil rights group said Thursday. In its test, the ACLU scanned photos of all members of Congress and had the system compare them with a public database of 25,000 mugshots. The group used the default "confidence threshold" setting of 80 percent for Rekognition, meaning the test counted a face match at 80 percent certainty or more. At that setting, the system misidentified 28 members of Congress, a disproportionate number of whom were people of color, tagging them instead as entirely different people who have been arrested for a crime. The faces of members of Congress used in the test include Republicans and Democrats, men and women and legislators of all ages.
They call Amazon the everything store--and Tuesday, the world learned about one of its lesser-known but provocative products. Police departments pay the company to use facial-recognition technology Amazon says can "identify persons of interest against a collection of millions of faces in real-time." More than two dozen nonprofits wrote to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to ask that he stop selling the technology to police, after the ACLU of Northern California revealed documents to shine light on the sales. The letter argues that the technology will inevitably be misused, accusing the company of providing "a powerful surveillance system readily available to violate rights and target communities of color." The revelation highlights a key question: What laws or regulations govern police use of the facial-recognition technology?