Taser’s creators recommended that the company not implement
facial recognition technology for use with its body cameras, according to a
report released by its ethics board.
U.S. police departments widely use Taser cameras—manufactured
by Axon—as body cameras. In its first report after being created approximately
one year ago, the board found that facial recognition technology is not “reliable
enough to ethically justify its use on bodyworn cameras. At the least, face
recognition technology should not be deployed until the technology performs with
far greater accuracy and performs equally well across races, ethnicities,
genders, and other identity groups.”
The board also explained that it was “unwilling to endorse”
developing facial recognition technology that could be customized by users. Instead,
it explained that it “strongly prefers a model in which the technologies that
are made available are limited in what functions they can perform, so as to prevent
misuse by law enforcement.”
Critics like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) have found that surveillance through technology like facial recognition can have implications for privacy, free speech, and racial justice. The EFF has advocated for U.S. federal and state laws to prevent biometric technology on body cameras for this reason.
"Communities and lawmakers across the country are waking up to the fact that using face recognition for government surveillance is a troubling trend, particularly when used with cameras that police officers wear," according to legislative activist Hayley Tsukayama in a blog post for the EFF.
Facial recognition technology has come under increased
scrutiny over the past year due to its use in China to track ethnic minorities, and some U.S. cities, like San Francisco, have banned its use.
The board’s decision not to move forward in implementing
facial recognition technology into Taser body cameras shows how the technology itself
is becoming controversial, according to WIRED.
“The power that software capable of recognizing people in
public could give police and governments has struck a nerve with citizens and
lawmakers seemingly inured to technology that redefines privacy,” WIRED wrote. “As
a result, Axon and other technology companies are advancing more cautiously
with the technology, a departure from the usual pattern of moving fast, breaking
things, and leaving society to patch up the problems.”
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
found that facial recognition technology algorithms do not perform evenly
across the board, with the most effective ones far ahead of the rest of the
pack. However, NIST has seen some advances in facial recognition software’s
ability to accurately match footage to a database.
“Specifically, in the four-year time period of 2014 to 2018,
facial recognition software became 20 times more accurate in searching a
database to find a matching photograph,” according to previous Security Management coverage.