The House Judiciary Committee recently debated the merits of facial recognition technology and what, if any, action the federal government should take in regulating its use. Both Republicans and Democrats are concerned about the potential for companies and law enforcement to abuse this technology, with Republicans being concerned about it violating constitutional rights and Democrats worried about the technology exhibiting racial biases. While the concerns are valid, an opposition could lead to overly punitive legislation governing facial recognition technology.
With a growing number of states banning law enforcement from using facial recognition technology, as well as the fact the European Union recently introduced sweeping regulations and bans on most forms of artificial intelligence (AI), a federal law regulating facial recognition technology seems almost inevitable.
While both sides of the aisle are skeptic of the technology, it is possible that any regulation introduced will be overbearing and will endanger consumers by stripping them of additional layers of security. An increasing number of companies are using facial recognition to keep users, and their data, secure. It would also make Americans less safe if police were denied access to this technology since it is successfully utilized in investigations to apprehend criminals.
Democrats, for example, are concerned about facial recognition technology demonstrating racial bias by not accurately identifying Black individuals’ faces and suggesting that this would be grounds to regulate it.
While this issue has been found in some facial recognition algorithms, the problem has been already addressed by newer, more advanced software. Training the AI on a more diverse range of faces statistically minimizes the concern for racial bias. Many companies already train AI this way, as they want to have the most accurate algorithms.
House Republicans, on the other hand, are concerned about the technology violating the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. However, legal scholars agree that most uses of the technology do not constitute an unreasonable search since they are often employed in public places and not private domiciles.
Facial recognition has been implemented in many everyday products to keep consumers safe from forms of theft. Banks, for example, have started using facial recognition in ATMs and online banking to prevent identity theft and ensure consumers’ finances remain secure.
When it comes to cars, facial recognition technology can prevent theft by ensuring that only approved faces can enter and operate the vehicle. The use of this technology means criminals cannot enter the car without violently breaking into it and activating an alarm system.
Similarly, the technology is now being used in smart home security systems, which can alert homeowners of intruders. These systems can deny entry to unauthorized faces and provide valuable information to aid police in burglary investigations.
A heavy-handed federal law may outlaw these features that are vital in keeping consumers safe.
Law enforcement should be allowed to maintain access to facial recognition technology. Police at federal, state, and municipal levels have been using facial recognition technology to efficiently analyze mugshot data to apprehend criminals for over two decades now. This has allowed police to better protect consumers from different forms of theft.
It is sensible to hold law enforcement accountable for specific situations where the technology is abused to spy on Americans, but a blanket ban on its use would make it harder for law enforcement to investigate serious crimes.
Any action taken by Congress to regulate facial recognition would threaten to remove the safety it provides to millions of Americans. As the technology improves, concerns about it incorrectly identifying individuals are reduced, and the case for its use is strengthened. With these benefits in mind, it would be wrong for the federal government to impose overbearing regulation on facial recognition technology.
Caroline Wang is a Policy Intern at the American Consumer Institute, a nonprofit educational and research organization. For more information about the Institute, visit www.TheAmericanConsumer.org or follow us on Twitter @ConsumerPal