By Kevin Deutsch
A bill proposed in the state legislature would ban use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement in New York—a move aimed at curbing the NYPD’s unregulated use of the controversial surveillance tool.
State Senator Brad Hoylman (D/WF-Manhattan) introduced the legislation this week in an effort, he said, to regulate the “increasingly pervasive and dangerously powerful technology, before it’s too late.”
As the country’s largest police force, the NYPD has been an early adopter of facial recognition software, the capabilities of which have expanded dramatically during the past year.
The department has even launched a standalone Facial Identification Section, tasked with wielding the technology in pursuit of lawbreakers.
Civil libertarians have blasted the city for revealing little about how its agencies use facial recognition in the five boroughs. And alleged civil rights and privacy abuses have already been uncovered.
A new report from Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology, for instance, revealed the NYPD’s alteration of suspect images, while other reports highlighted the department’s alleged improper storage of minors’ photos.
Separately, some NYPD service members were found to have used a controversial facial recognition app created by Clearview AI, which scrapes millions of social media photos and other data to make suspect identifications.
The NYPD’s Facial Identification Section has said it tried out the app, but no longer uses it.
Facial recognition tech isn’t always reliable, critics say, and is highly inaccurate when analyzing the faces of people of color.
One study found that commercially available facial recognition algorithms “consistently perform worse” when being asked to recognize minority groups. Transgender citizens are also regularly misidentified, according to research from University of Colorado Boulder and cited by Hoylman.
“Facial recognition technology threatens to end every New Yorker’s ability to walk down the street anonymously,” Hoylman said. “In the wrong hands, this technology presents a chilling threat to our privacy and civil liberties – especially when evidence shows this technology is less accurate when used on people of color, and transgender, non-binary and non-conforming people.”
The proposed law would prohibit any local or state law enforcement officer or agency from obtaining or using any “biometric surveillance system” in connection with official duties.
The law would not restrict fingerprint technology or regulated DNA databank use by law enforcement, Hoylman said.