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Authoritarian Tech

Widespread use of facial recognition technology in the U.S. intensifies debate

Facial recognition technology used in schools, universities, businesses, and apartment buildings is sparking debate and backlash across the United States.

In New York, the Lockport public school system was set to pilot the facial recognition system, the first public school in the U.S. to use the technology. The pilot project raised concerns over civil rights and other ethical issues. After widespread criticism, the New York State Education Department asked Lockport to delay the implementation of the system, reported BuzzFeed News.

Facial recognition was deployed in 2012 and 2013 at a campus of the University of Colorado, reported the Colorado Springs Independent. More than 1,700 people were unknowingly photographed for a research project funded by U.S. intelligence and military agencies. The surveillance camera captured more than 16,000 photos, resulting in a dataset of 1,732 identities.

In Brooklyn, tenants are fighting the installation of facial recognition software that would control access to portions of their building. The landlord, Nelson Management Group, has argued that the software would improve tenants’ safety and called the complaints “baseless.” However, there are fears that the system would lead to further gentrification and surveillance in the area.

“I’m afraid of it being shared with third-party agencies. I’m afraid of it being shared with the police. I’m afraid of it being shared with anyone – advertising companies, just everyone. It’s just very sensitive information that I feel our landlord should not have,” Tranae Moran, one of the tenants, told The Guardian.

Experts warn that the private use of facial recognition software is unregulated and the scope of its use across the country is unknown. “The vast majority of commercial deployments are secret,” said Alvaro Bedoya in The Guardian. Bedoya is the founding director of the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law.

Research has shown facial recognition systems are prone to misidentifying women and persons of foreign origins. During tests in New York in 2018, the system failed to identify terrorists on the road, failing to detect a single face. Inaccurate results led San Francisco in May to become was the first city in the US to ban its use by police and other public agencies.

Somerville, Massachusetts might soon follow San Francisco’s example as the debate intensifies. After the disclosure of a massive FBI database of mugshots and driver licence photos that contained more than 640 million photographs, twice the number of current US population, members of Congress have called for a temporary ban on the federal government’s use of facial recognition technology.

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