Why Governments And Law Enforcement Shouldn’t Use Facial Recognition

Written by Ann Brown

Even though Brian Brackeen is the chief executive officer of the facial recognition software developer Kairos, he’s not too thrilled with the use of the technology by governments. In fact, he thinks it a dangerous idea, one that will negatively impact people of color.

“As the Black chief executive of a software company developing facial recognition services, I have a personal connection to the technology, both culturally and socially,” Brackeen wrote in Techcrunch. And his experience tells him, that the technology will be used in the wrong way. According to Brackeen, things are already heading in that direction.

Recall the outrage by Amazon staffers over  Amazon’s deal with law enforcement to provide facial recognition surveillance (called “Rekognition”). Employees called for Amazon to pull out of the arrangement. And most recently fears was ignited over how the world’s governments may use facial recognition, especially after China used of the technology to track down a criminal suspect after he tried to get lost in a sea of 60,000 concertgoers.


Face Recognition
FILE – In this March 12, 2015, file photo, Seattle police officer Debra Pelich, right, wears a video camera on her eyeglasses as she talks with Alex Legesse before a small community gathering in Seattle. While the Seattle Police Department bars officers from using real-time facial recognition in body camera video, privacy activists are concerned that a proliferation of the technology could turn the cameras into tools of mass surveillance. The ACLU and other organizations on Tuesday, May 22, 2018, asked Amazon to stop selling its facial-recognition tool, called Rekognition, to law enforcement agencies. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)


Brackeen says this is a dangerous slope and says the bigger picture is scary. He wrote, that having a “comprehensive understanding of how the software works gives me a unique perspective that has shaped my positions about its uses. As a result, I (and my company) have come to believe that the use of commercial facial recognition in law enforcement or in government surveillance of any kind is wrong–and that it opens the door for gross misconduct by the morally corrupt.”

And the ones who will mostly be victims of the misuse of the technology will be people of color. “Facial recognition technologies, used in the identification of suspects, negatively affects people of color. To deny this fact would be a lie. And clearly, facial recognition-powered government surveillance is an extraordinary invasion of the privacy of all citizens–and a slippery slope to losing control of our identities altogether,” Brackeen wrote.

He added: “I’ve been pretty clear about the potential dangers associated with current racial biases in face recognition, and open in my opposition to the use of the technology in law enforcement.”

Imagine, Brackeen pointed out, if there is a misidentification. This could lead to wrongful conviction.

Plus, said Brackeen, governments can use the technology for other things that border on invasion of privacy. China, for example, is also using facial recognition to monitor the behavior of its citizens.

“China is currently setting up a vast public surveillance network of systems that are utilizing face recognition to construct “social credit” systems, which rank citizens based on their behavior, queuing rewards and punishments depending on their scores,” Brackeen wrote.

Some “punishment-worthy” infractions include jaywalking, smoking in non-smoking areas, and “even buying too many video games.” The result of too many infractions will be travel restrictions, among other things.

Asked Brackeen: “Imagine if America and its already terrifying record of racial disparity in the use of force by the police had the power and justification of someone being ‘socially incorrect’?”