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Half of US adults are profiled in police facial recognition databases

Grant Gross | Oct. 19, 2016
The use of police photo databases raises questions about a lack of regulation and the accuracy of results

The main companies that sell facial-recognition technology to U.S. law enforcement agencies are Cognitec, NEC, and MorphoTrust, Garvie said. These companies also license their face recognition algorithms to other value-added resellers, such as FaceFirst and Dynamic Imaging Systems.

Limited testing has suggested that facial recognition technology makes more errors on African Americans, women, and young people, Garvie said.

The search systems are also set up to return results, "regardless of whether the suspect being searched for is in the database," Garvie added. "This means that a system may return a list of 10 or 40 completely innocent people."

With many police systems using drivers license photos, the list "may be of people who have never had any interaction with the police before," she added. "But if the algorithm says it has a high confidence that one or more of these people is a 'match,' the police may investigate. They may arrest a completely innocent person because the algorithm pointed them in that person's direction." 

Representatives of the FBI and the National Association of Police Organizations didn't immediately respond to requests for comments on the report.

 

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