The New York State legislature has reportedly just passed an act banning the use of facial recognition and other biometric technologies in schools until 2022. The bill will be signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo. This comes on the heels of bills that have been officially passed in San Francisco, Somerville, Massachusetts, and several other places to ban facial recognition software in public places.
The Lockport City School District, located in western New York, is the first school district in the United States to explicitly mandate the use of facial recognition technology on campus. In January, the district began officially operating the facial recognition system, which serves approximately 5,000 students in the district. The move was opposed by some local officials and residents, who argued that the measure could be used to spy on students and create a database of sensitive information about faces, thereby compromising the district’s safety.
Lockport City School District is the first school district in the United States to explicitly mandate the use of facial recognition technology on campus
New York State Assemblywoman Monica Wallace has expressed her concern that “allowing facial recognition technology to be used in schools would be like opening the floodgates on government funding for technology that is questionable in terms of reliability and accuracy.”
The New York Civil Liberties Union had filed a lawsuit against the Lockport City School District a month earlier on behalf of parents who opposed the system. Stefanie Coyle, vice president of the Center for Education Policy, said, “This is important. Face recognition is known to be inaccurate, especially when it comes to identifying people of color and women. Biometric accuracy is even questionable for children whose appearance changes as they age.”
Facial recognition has always been one of the most controversial categories of technology
U.S. government agencies have been using face recognition technology for more than 10 years. Thanks to recent advances in deep learning technology, the accuracy of face recognition has also improved dramatically. Artificial intelligence-based computer vision technology can help regulators spot criminals and prevent identity fraud, as well as help find missing children or target protesters in moving crowds. E-commerce technology companies are also using this technology to enable face-swipe shopping, enhance the user experience and even probe consumers’ expressions as they look at products.
However, the accuracy of face recognition systems and the bias issues involved have been questioned at both the academic and public opinion levels, with the public concerned that these face recognition systems are not as effective at correctly identifying people of color and women. One reason for this is that the data sets used to train the software may come more from men and whites.
Since last year, a number of places in the U.S. have begun banning face recognition technology, and in May 2019, the Board of Supervisors of the City of San Francisco became the first city in the world to ban face recognition technology when it voted to pass an ordinance banning its purchase and use by government agencies.
Following the “Black Lives Matter” protests in the U.S., companies such as Amazon, IBM and Microsoft announced they were ending sales of face recognition products. Last month, the city council of Boston, Massachusetts’ capital and largest city, voted 13-0 to pass the “Ordinance Banning Face Surveillance Technology in Boston” due to racial bias controversy.
Today, both San Francisco, with its many technology companies, and Boston, with its Harvard University, MIT, and other institutions of higher learning, are pioneers in banning this artificial intelligence technology.
Can technology be neutral forever? The increasingly widespread use of the technology has also brought more and more questions. Today, face recognition technology seems to be facing an unprecedented dilemma.