The growing use of facial-recognition systems has led to a high-tech form of racial profiling, with African Americans more likely than others to have their images captured, analyzed, and reviewed during computerized searches for crime suspects, says a new report based on records from dozens of police departments, the Washington Post says. The report, released today by the Center for Privacy & Technology at Georgetown University’s law school, found that half of all U.S. adults have their images stored in at least one facial-recognition database that police can search, typically with few restrictions.
The steady expansion of these systems has led to a disproportionate racial impact because African Americans are more likely to be arrested and have mug shots taken, one of the main ways that images end up in police databases. The report found that criminal databases are rarely “scrubbed” to remove the images of innocent people, nor are facial-recognition systems routinely tested for accuracy, even though some struggle to distinguish among darker-skinned faces. The combination of these factors means African Americans are more likely to be singled out as possible suspects in crimes, including ones they did not commit, the report says. “This is a serious problem, and no one is working to fix it,” said Alvaro Bedoya of the Georgetown Law center that produced the report. “Police departments are talking about it as if it’s race-blind, and it’s just not true.” A coalition of civil rights and civil liberties groups plans to ask the Justice Department’s civil rights division today for an investigation into the use and possible abuse of facial-recognition technology.