Increasingly, law enforcement is turning to automatic facial recognition technology, usually without any clear rules about its use.
As one British civil rights group put it, facial recognition is “arsenic in the water supply of democracy.”
Indeed, many of the fears about abuses of the technology have come true, and things will only get worse without more pressure on local, state and federal governments to lay down clear guidelines.
Last week it was disclosed that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, has used facial recognition technology to comb through millions of driver’s license photos.
That violates the privacy of immigrants living in the U.S. legally and illegally as well as all other legal citizens.
ICE contacted several states to make the searches, sometimes getting subpoenas and sometimes just making written requests. (Minnesota officials tell Minnesota Public Radio that ICE has made no requests to search Minnesota’s database.)
But neither Congress nor the states have laws allowing law enforcement to make facial recognition searches through databases filled with innocent people.
The ICE searches were often for low level criminals and for people who overstayed their visas.
Ironically, such overreach by ICE will only push more undocumented immigrants to break the law. Many states allow and want them to get driver’s training and driver’s licenses for the public’s safety and to allow them to work and contribute to the economy. Now, knowing that driver’s license photos may be searched and used against them, more are likely to bypass licensing and other contact with government officials.
Local law enforcement is also stepping up facial recognition technology with many cities plastering the town with cameras scanning anyone and everyone who walks by.
While people have less expectation of privacy in public places, they still expect and deserve basic levels of privacy.
Most of the cities using the technology have no clear written policy on how it can be used, and the public is told to trust that it won’t be abused. The crime-fighting benefits of the technology pales in comparison to the civil rights violations it brings.
It does not have to be inevitable that cameras will spy on you and recognize you anywhere you go. San Francisco has banned the use of facial recognition by law enforcement and all other government agencies.
It’s a position other cities should follow. And legislatures and Congress need to work more diligently on ensuring civil rights and privacy protections keep up with the new technology.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE MANKATO FREE PRESS