Racial bias in facial recognition technology the focus of bill introduced by Rep. Lawrence


DPD Chief James Craig inside the city's Real Time Crime Center at police headquarters. - STEVE NEAVLING
  • Steve Neavling
  • DPD Chief James Craig inside the city's Real Time Crime Center at police headquarters.

U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence plans to introduce legislation to require a deeper examination of the racial biases found in facial recognition technology.

As more law enforcement agencies begin using the controversial technology, researchers are finding that the face-scanning technology is significantly flawed when used to identify people of color. In essence, the darker the skin, the more inaccurate the technology is.

Despite the flaws, the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners on Sept. 19 approved the use of the technology in a city that is 80 percent Black.

U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. - CONGRESS
  • Congress
  • U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence.
Lawrence, D-Detroit, recently visited the city’s Real Time Crime Center, where analysts have access to hundreds of live camera feeds.

“I understand there is a need to ensure that our communities and neighborhoods are safe. However, we must not act hastily and take the proper precautions to prevent any violations of the rights of our citizens,” Lawrence said in a news release Monday. “Currently, there are no federal regulations that actively govern the use of the facial recognition software. On the heels of my visit to the Real Time Crime Center, I find it essential that I introduce legislation that will implement a federal review of this technology. My bill will require the government to evaluate the technology for bias concerns and review best training and hiring practices to ensure this tool remains race neutral.”

Detroit's facial recognition software is especially pervasive because it's used on a quickly expanding surveillance network of high-definition cameras under Mayor Mike Duggan's Project Green Light, a crime-fighting initiative that began in 2016 at gas stations and fast-food restaurants. Since then, the city has installed more than 500 surveillance cameras at parks, schools, low-income housing complexes, immigration centers, gas stations, churches, abortion clinics, hotels, health centers, apartments, and addiction treatment centers. Now, the city is installing high-definition cameras at roughly 500 intersections at a time when other cities are scaling back because of privacy concerns.

For nearly two years, the police department used the technology with little to no public input.

Lawrence said the time to devise federal regulations is now.

“Facial recognition technology is quickly being embraced around the country as a solution to reduce crime, this technology is here to stay and we must make it work for us in a fair and productive manner,” Lawrence said.

Michigan lawmakers are considering legislation that would place a moratorium on the use of facial recognition software to give researchers and legal experts more time to examine the technology.

In July, U.S. Rep Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, introduced legislation that would ban the use of facial recognition technology at federally funded housing units.

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