(TNS) — Last year, the U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee heard a harrowing but increasingly common story of injustice. Black Robert Williams was arrested in 2020 for allegedly stealing a watch from a Detroit store. But even though he hadn’t been to the store in several years, police took him away in a police car in front of his two young daughters. He was held for more than 30 hours for crimes he did not commit.
Law enforcement finding the wrong suspect is nothing new. What’s new is how the police make these mistakes. In Williams’ case, the Detroit Police Department used the Michigan State Police Department’s facial recognition program to identify the suspect from a grainy surveillance image. The technology landed on Williams using Michigan’s database of driver’s license photos as a possible match — a high-tech mistake with serious human consequences. It is critical to enact federal laws to help law enforcement prevent such mistakes.
The powerful surveillance tools used against Williams were up to 100 times more likely to misidentify Asians and Blacks than white men, according to a 2019 National Institute of Standards and Technology study. False-positive rates also increased in South Asia, Central America, and Native America. Facial recognition technology (FRT), in addition to its algorithmic bias, can and has been used by law enforcement to identify peaceful protesters, investigate petty crimes, and arrest people with no evidence of incrimination beyond a single FRT match. As a result, more and more people, especially people of color, are falling victim to this flawed, unregulated surveillance system.
Even with a clear record of how inaccurate facial recognition technology is, its use continues to grow. After telling his story, Robert Williams called for a moratorium on FRT, which understandably reflects his experience. I agree that widespread use of facial recognition technology should be banned. I found that the time was ripe for abuse, and as an Asian American, I knew that people who looked like me were more likely to be victims of an incorrect match.
However, despite the efforts of advocates and advocacy groups, the federal moratorium did not materialize. Ultimately, we need a viable federal solution with broad support, and we have bills to get us there. Legislative representation is not an outright ban, but an outright ban. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Yvette Clark (DN.Y.) and I are sponsoring a nuanced approach to this technology, allowing law enforcement to use it in limited circumstances, While ensuring that civil liberties are protected.
The Facial Recognition Act limits the use of FRT and protects Americans from extreme and unethical uses of the technology. The act limits law enforcement use to situations where a search warrant shows a probable cause for an individual to commit a serious violent felony. In addition, it prohibits law enforcement agencies from using FRT at protests and other constitutionally protected activities, and prohibits them from using the technology in conjunction with body, dashboard and aircraft camera footage. The bill has the backing of a broad coalition, from government watchdog groups and civil liberties groups to retired law enforcement officers and legal scholars.
The Facial Recognition Act prohibits matching as the only evidence to determine the cause of a possible arrest—an important safeguard to prevent innocent people from being drawn into criminal investigations. By requiring all FRT used by law enforcement across the country to meet a uniform set of standards, the act ensures that the accuracy of results does not vary so dramatically based on an individual’s skin color.
Some advocates of an outright ban on FRT might say the approach is not enough — anything without a federal ban is a failure to control flawed technology. I respect that opinion, but I worry about what will happen as the years go by without any common sense constraints on FRT. Strong momentum at the state and local levels: More than a dozen states have enacted laws regulating how law enforcement can use FRT. This is a good start, but a piecemeal approach does not guarantee that all citizens will not be misidentified. The bill creates baseline protections for all Americans while still enabling state and local jurisdictions to move forward with bans and moratoriums.
Each year, more law enforcement agencies across the country are expanding their use of facial recognition technology. The Government Accountability Office reported that as of July 2021, 20 of the 42 federal agencies surveyed were using it as part of their law enforcement efforts. Additionally, state and local jurisdictions are increasing their reliance on FRT. If we make perfect the enemy of the good, we will continue to be bystanders while more Americans fall victim to this technological flaw.
We need something that works — and something that civil liberties groups and law enforcement can support. Facial recognition is one way we can learn to prevent what happened to Robert Williams from happening to others.
© 2022 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC. Democrat Ted Lieu represents California’s 33rd Congressional District.
GovernanceThe opinion column reflects the views of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of the author Governanceeditor or management.
window.fbAsyncInit = function() FB.init(
appId : '314190606794339',
xfbml : true, version : 'v2.9' ); ;
(function(d, s, id)
var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s);
if (d.getElementById(id)) return;
js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id;
js.src = "https://connect.facebook.net/en_US/sdk.js";
(document, 'script', 'facebook-jssdk'));