Boston’s move to ban facial recognition could pressure big tech players to exit the market

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less than half of US young adults trust law enforcement to use facial recognition responsibly

The Boston City Council unanimously approved an ordinance that will ban the purchase and use of facial recognition technology by city officials, including the police department. Among the reasons for issuing the ban, the ordinance cited “racial bias in facial surveillance” and the potential for surveillance tools to damage public trust in government.

Councilor Michelle Wu specifically referenced the false arrest of Robert Julian-Borchak Williams, a Black man living in Michigan. Detroit police arrested and interrogated Williams after facial recognition software incorrectly identified him in robbery surveillance footage, according to a New York Times investigation released this week. The incident is believed to represent the first instance of facial recognition leading to a false arrest in the US.

Local bans on facial recognition, like this Boston ordinance, will undercut big tech efforts to instate facial recognition reform at the federal level. In response to heightened public scrutiny, Amazon, IBM, and Microsoft suspended or terminated the sale of facial recognition services to law enforcement; the companies also advocated for federal regulation of the technology.

But while Boston issued an outright ban on government use of facial recognition, the tech companies envision federal reforms that would instead set standards as to how the technology can be used. Amazon, for instance, has advocated for regulation that would set accuracy thresholds for facial recognition software. Given the current political climate, we believe the Boston ordinance will precipitate bans in other large US cities, undercutting big tech efforts to make facial recognition more palatable through regulation.

Increased scrutiny on government use of facial recognition could lead to big tech players discontinuing sales of facial recognition to law enforcement. While Amazon and Microsoft left the door open to resume selling facial recognition software to law enforcement, IBM, which reportedly wasn’t making much money from facial recognition software sales in the first place, decided to terminate its program altogether.

The public was already skeptical of facial recognition technology, and we expect it will become even more so following recent events — in 2019, 50% of US adults said they wouldn’t trust tech companies to use facial recognition responsibly, and 27% said the same about law enforcement agencies, according to Pew Research. Because of these conditions, we expect at least one other big tech company will follow in IBM’s footsteps. This would leave players like Clearview AI, Cognitec, and Vigilant Solutions to provide facial recognition to law enforcement — even though these players have lower public profiles, they actually held a larger share of the market compared to the big tech players, according to The New York Times.

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Source:: Business Insider

      

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