Two articles on facial recognition

Within the last hour I’ve run across two articles that discuss various aspects of facial recognition, dispelling popular society notions about the science in the process.

Ban facial recognition? Ain’t gonna happen

The first article was originally shared by my former IDEMIA colleague Peter Kirkwood, who certainly understood the significance of it from his many years in the identity industry.

The article, published by the Security Industry Association (SIA), is entitled “Most State Legislatures Have Rejected Bans and Severe Restrictions on Facial Recognition.”

Admittedly the SIA is by explicit definition an industry association, but in this case it is simply noting a fact.

With most 2021 legislative sessions concluded or winding down for the year, proposals to ban or heavily restrict the technology have had very limited overall success despite recent headlines. It turns out that such bills failed to advance or were rejected by legislatures in no fewer than 17 states during the 2020 and 2021 sessions: California, Colorado, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, South Carolina and Washington.

And the article even cited one instance in which public safety and civil libertarians worked together, proving such cooperation is actually possible.

In March, Utah enacted the nation’s most comprehensive and precise policy safeguards for government applications. The measure, supported both by the Utah Department of Public Safety as well as the American Civil Liberties Union, establishes requirements for public-sector and law enforcement use, including conditions for access to identity records held by the state, and transparency requirements for new public sector applications of facial recognition technology.

This reminds me of Kirkwood’s statement when he originally shared the article on LinkedIn: “Targeted use with appropriate governance and transparency is an incredibly powerful and beneficial tool.”

NIST’s biometric exit tests reveal an inconvenient truth

Meanwhile, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which is clearly NOT an industry association, continues to enhance its ongoing Facial Recognition Vendor Test (FRVT). As I noted myself on Facebook and LinkedIn:

With its latest rounds of biometric testing over the last few years, the National Institute of Standards and Technology has shown its ability to adapt its testing to meet current situations.

In this case, NIST announced that it has applied its testing to the not-so-new use case of using facial recognition as a “biometric exit” tool, or as a way to verify that someone who was supposed to leave the country has actually left the country. The biometric exit use case emerged after 9/11 in response to visa overstays, and while the vast, vast majority of people who overstay visas do not fly planes into buildings and kill thousands of people, visa overstays are clearly a concern and thus merit NIST testing.

Transportation Security Administration Checkpoint at John Glenn Columbus International Airport. By Michael Ball – Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=77279000

But buried at the end of the NIST report (accessible from the link in NIST’s news release) was a little quote that should cause discomfort to all of those who reflexively believe that all biometrics is racist, and thus needs to be banned entirely (see SIA story above). Here’s what NIST said after having looked at the data from the latest test:

“The team explored differences in performance on male versus female subjects and also across national origin, which were the two identifiers the photos included. National origin can, but does not always, reflect racial background. Algorithms performed with high accuracy across all these variations. False negatives, though slightly more common for women, were rare in all cases.”

And as Peter Kirkwood and many other industry professionals would say, you need to use the technology responsibly. This includes things such as:

  • In criminal cases, having all computerized biometric search results reviewed by a trained forensic face examiner.
  • ONLY using facial recognition results as an investigative lead, and not relying on facial recognition alone to issue an arrest warrant.

So facial recognition providers and users had a good day. How was yours?

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