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Facial Recognition Company Says It Won't Sell To Law Enforcement, Knowing It'll Be Abused

from the taking-a-stand dept

We just recently wrote about employees at Amazon speaking out inside the company to complain about the company selling its face recognition tools (called: “Rekognition”) to law enforcement. That resulted in the CEO of a maker of facial recognition software, Brian Brackeen, to publicly state that his company, Kairos, will not sell to law enforcement.

The full article is worth reading, but he notes that the technology will be abused and misused by law enforcement — and often in a way that will lead to false arrests and murder:

Having the privilege of a comprehensive understanding of how the software works gives me a unique perspective that has shaped my positions about its uses. As a result, I (and my company) have come to believe that the use of commercial facial recognition in law enforcement or in government surveillance of any kind is wrong ? and that it opens the door for gross misconduct by the morally corrupt.

To be truly effective, the algorithms powering facial recognition software require a massive amount of information. The more images of people of color it sees, the more likely it is to properly identify them. The problem is, existing software has not been exposed to enough images of people of color to be confidently relied upon to identify them.

And misidentification could lead to wrongful conviction, or far worse.

As he states later in the piece:

There is no place in America for facial recognition that supports false arrests and murder.

It’s good to see this, and whether you support the police or not, we should appreciate this moment — just as we should appreciate the people at Amazon who stood up and complained about this. Too often lately, the tech industry is getting slammed for not taking into account the impact of their technology in their rush to push forward innovation at any costs. I’ve always felt that that narrative is a bit exaggerated. I talk to a lot of entrepreneurs who really do think quite a lot about how their technology may impact the world — both good and bad — but it’s good to see people in the industry speaking out publicly about how that might happen, and why they need to make sure not to oversell the technology in a way where it’s likely to cause real harm.

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Companies: kairos

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Comments on “Facial Recognition Company Says It Won't Sell To Law Enforcement, Knowing It'll Be Abused”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Tragic

The problem with tools is that once they have been invented, they cannot be uninvented. Also, when governments try to prevent the use of tools, they always allow themselves to have the tools.

That said, a tool like facial recognition can be useful even with a very high error rate, simply because it can direct a human to take a closer look at a few faces in a sea of thousands of faces. From what I have seen, that is how the UK police use it, as a means of directing a trained officer to take a closer look, and not as an indication that they should go and arrest a face. U.S police practices on the other hand differ and it becomes much more dangerous in their hands.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Tragic

They have been of assistance in quite a few, often involving the police going round and collecting videos, from private cctv outside shops etc. that might be of use. Then that is not a case of building a huge database, and hoping software will give useful results, but rather police doing a lot of legwork to collect and analyze evidence.

Anonymous Coward says:

But will they use resellers who do?

The only way they can prevent state use is to restrict it explicitly in their licensing. And I seriously doubt they’ve done that.

More likely this is just a publicity stunt, and they’ve already filed a second set of incorporation papers, for the company that will be exclusively used for government business. And that company will of course, only hire people who have active secret clearances, so that if anybody talks about the product, they will get federal jail time.

This is how things are done now. Businesss’ that do business with the state compartmentalize to allow the state to implement more brutal oversight over their employees. The company extrenalizes its internal security costs to the state, and the state gets to keep its accelerating slide into fascism a secret a little longer.

DocGerbil100 (profile) says:

I tip my hat to Brian Brackeen and Kairos.

Even in the event of a compartmentalised corporate structure that allows abusive trade to be laundered out (as per AC’s comment above), the mere acknowledgement of the issues is something that would inevitably come back to bite them later on. Few such secrets ever seem likely to last forever.

Today, this man and his company show every sign of having conducted themselves with honour. A measure of respect is something they’ve earned. 🙂

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