The world’s largest association of computing professionals is calling for an “immediate suspension” of both the private and the governmental use of facial recognition technologies for “technical and ethical reasons.”
The Association for Computing Machinery, which says it has almost 100,000 student and professional members, said in a statement Tuesday that the surveillance technology was often biased and could not be reliably used in a way that wouldn’t adversely affect vulnerable populations.
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“The technology too often produces results demonstrating clear bias based on ethnic, racial, gender, and other human characteristics recognizable by computer systems,” the group’s U.S. Technology Policy Committee said in a statement. “Such bias and its effects are scientifically and socially unacceptable.”
The association acknowledged that facial recognition technology can be “benign or beneficial” but said that its use has “often compromised fundamental human and legal rights of individuals to privacy, employment, justice and personal liberty.”
It called on policymakers to support the suspension until legal standards for accuracy, fairness and accountability have been developed.
The announcement comes amid ongoing protests across the United States against police violence and racial profiling. The protests galvanized researchers and civil liberties groups who have been calling for more public scrutiny and strict controls of surveillance technologies including facial recognition, which critics say exacerbates human biases and infringes on people’s constitutional freedoms.
At the end of 2019, researchers for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, an agency with the U.S. Department of Commerce, found that facial recognition algorithms falsely identified African American and Asian faces 10 to 100 times more than Caucasian faces — a flaw that was illustrated with the wrongful arrest of Robert Williams, a Michigan man, earlier this year.
The Association for Computing Machinery follows a string of organizations and companies to issue warnings or bans on the technology.
Earlier this month, IBM, Amazon and Microsoft announced sweeping restrictions on their sale of facial recognition tools and called for it to be federally regulated.
Olivia Solon is a tech investigations editor for NBC News in San Francisco.
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