The prospect of authorities going too far with the use of facial recognition technology is outright horrifying, but Presidential hopeful and current US Senator Bernie Sanders wants to nip that possibility in the bud by pushing for an outright ban on police and government use of the technology. The use of facial recognition technology in some cases could help criminal investigations and missing persons cases, but on the other hand, that’s dangerously close to something tantamount to mass surveillance and ultimate loss of privacy.
Sanders’ stance on the matter is quite simple; having authorities use the technology at all opens the door to a slippery slope, and even most legitimate use cases could be called ethically questionable. If governments and police are using facial recognition, after all, that means that anywhere there are police or cameras, you’ll have no privacy. Your every action will be tied to you, and authorities will know where you are at all times. You’ll never be able to escape surveillance and possible monitoring. If that sounds scary, that’s because it is, and it’s exactly what Sanders is fighting against as part of a larger plan on police and law enforcement reform.
Along with the mass surveillance implications, there is always the problem of bias when it comes to just about any kind of AI, and that goes double for facial recognition software. It not only has to contend with the limited set of facial feature sets and makeups that it’s fed in training, it can also fall victim to inadvertent racial profiling and even racism, making the software less effective. Naturally, this means that people of color, already a group caught in the middle of a battle over police authority and persecution in the United States, could possibly face even greater danger of things like false positives or mistaken identity.
Exactly the kind of thing Sanders is trying to prevent is already happening in places like China, while on the other side of the spectrum, some places in the United States have already put a blanket ban on facial recognition tech in government. San Francisco is perhaps the biggest example of a city that has already put into action a ban of the sort that Sanders wants to see on a national level. United States police, in some places, are already using the technology in select cases.
A number of big tech firms with skin in the game are already making strides in the sort of technology that would enable such an Orwellian future. Whether those firms will be willing to work with US government and policing entities, only time will tell. All of that, however, hinges on the 2020 US Presidential election. While other candidates, mostly Democratic, have talked about the issue with grave concern, only Sanders has stepped forward to guarantee a blanket ban, immediately, should he be elected.
His 2016 bid ran on similar issues, but he ended up losing the nomination to the much less radical Hillary Clinton. The Democratic base this year is rife with candidates of all sorts of stances and levels of fame and following, but given his activities and the vast shifts in the sociopolitical climate of the States since Trump came to power in 2016, Sanders may have a better chance this year, which would toss out a key profit possibility for this heretofore vastly fruitful area of AI research.