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Facial Recognition Lobby Urges Caution on U.S. Zeal to Regulate

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(Bloomberg) -- The trade group representing many of the largest technological security companies is urging regulators not to overreach on facial recognition restrictions even as U.S. lawmakers push to rein in police use of the software.

The Security Industry Association, which represents NEC Corp., France’s Idemia Group, Japan’s Ayonix Corp. and others, will release on Tuesday day a 10-point framework urging policy-makers, companies and governments to embrace the benefits of the technology, while upholding certain ethical principles.

SIA is defending government use of facial recognition at a time when some civil rights advocates, companies, and lawmakers are calling for police departments to stop using the technology. Critics want better guardrails to ensure facial recognition doesn’t promote racial biases in the criminal justice system.

Calls to curb law enforcement’s use of the technology grew louder during widespread public outrage over racial inequities following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, in Minneapolis police custody in May.SIA’s policy principles, obtained by Bloomberg News, caution lawmakers not to adopt a “one-size-fits-all legislative framework.”

‘Case-Specific’

SIA’s proposal urges governments to only buy facial recognition software that’s accurate for all demographic groups, while refraining from deploying the technology in a discriminatory manner. Police departments should only use facial recognition when there’s a “legitimate law enforcement purpose,” the group said.

Jake Parker, SIA’s head of government affairs, said that the group wants legislation to be narrowly focused on case-specific uses of the technology. “If there’s concern of a potential use that is negative, you need to structure restrictions or regulations around that particular concern,” he said in an interview.

Police use of facial recognition software has grown rapidly in recent years. The Federal Bureau of Investigation allows state and local police forces to search a database of more than 30 million photos. At least 25% of all state and local police departments have access to a facial recognition system, according to a 2016 study by Georgetown University’s Center on Privacy & Technology.

One of the largest companies, Clearview AI, which is also an SIA member, claims it supplies at least 2,400 of the more than 18,000 U.S. police departments. Through that program, officers can easily upload a suspect’s photo and the database returns other photos scraped from LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms.

Some civil-rights advocates have called for a complete moratorium on police use of the technology. A 2018 study by researchers from MIT Media Lab and Microsoft Corp. showed software from International Business Machines Corp., Microsoft and Face++, a Chinese-developed product, performed worse on darker-skinned people, especially women. Last year, researchers found similar issues with Amazon.com Inc.’s Rekognition software, a finding the company rejects.

Amazon, Microsoft and IBM all announced recently they’d stop, at least temporarily, selling facial recognition technology to police forces.

U.S. lawmakers have introduced at least a dozen bills in the last year and continue to draft measures to curtail the use of facial recognition by government agencies. Members on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee have been negotiating a broad bill to limit all government use of the technology.

In the Senate, Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat, and Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, are proposing that federal law-enforcement agencies obtain a warrant before using face-recognition technology to track an individual for more than three days.

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