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Is Facial Recognition Software on Police Body Cameras Reliable?


One of the newest technologies in the law enforcement industry is facial recognition software. Yet, it is not without controversy.

Facial recognition software uses an algorithm to compare faces in front of them with an index of mugshots from past bookings and arrests. In theory, putting facial recognition on police body cameras could be beneficial. Advocates argue it would help find lost children in crowds or improve security measures at large events. 

However, others cite the technology's potential downfalls. One of the primary worries and fears people have is that it will incorrectly identify them as having had run-ins with the law.

How Accurate Is Facial Recognition Software?

To test its accuracy, the Northern California ACLU and California lawmakers recently tried out the software. They concluded it mistook one in five lawmakers as someone with an arrest record. Misidentified individuals could face serious consequences and be treated more harshly by police officers. For example, law enforcement officers may assume one's guilt based upon an incorrect facial recognition result.

An Ethics Dilemma

The company Axon produces technology for police and law enforcement. Its board of ethics, Axon AI & Policing Technology Ethics Board, studied facial recognition software for a year. In June 2019, they cited their findings. The board overwhelmingly questioned facial recognition's reliability and accuracy.

Ultimately, they determined it is not ready for law enforcement to use. Using facial recognition technology at this point could result in discrimination. The people most affected by these inequalities would be people of color and women.

The Body Accountability Act (AB 1215)

Many California cities, such as San Francisco and Oakland, have already banned law enforcement from using facial recognition software on body cameras. However, California lawmaker Phil Tang doesn't think that's doing enough. He has proposed a bill called "The Body Camera Accountability Act (AB 1215)". This bill would ban the entire state of California from using facial recognition technology on police body cameras.

It seems to be agreed upon that facial recognition software is not perfect, but there are still divided opinions on the matter. While some choose to focus on its potential benefits, others see its risks and dangers, especially to certain demographics. The law is always changing, and Assemblyman Ting's proposed bill is a push to do just that.

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