- The European Union (EU) is weighing a ban of up to five years on facial recognition technology in public areas, according to Reuters and other reports citing a leak on the website Euractiv. The proposal was laid out in a draft white paper on artificial intelligence (AI) regulation, slated to be finalized in February.
- The draft suggests that facial recognition technology would be prohibited "for a definite period (e.g. three to five years) during which a sound methodology for assessing the impacts of this technology and possible risk management measures could be identified and developed." The ban would apply to use by governments and private businesses in a public space, although exceptions could be made for security purposes.
- The ban is being considered in a larger suite of AI regulations and reforms, which could also include a voluntary label for ethical AI, setting minimum standards for use, mandatory risk-based requirements for certain applications and establishing a new governance framework.
As the technology has matured, facial recognition tools have cropped up in more aspects of life. Law enforcement use of the technology has expanded, both as a crowd control tool and to track suspects, and even private companies have explored how it could be used to identify customers or replace IDs.
That rise has also been accompanied by concerns about its potential abuse and mistreatment of minorities and people of color. A recent report by the federal National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) found the top algorithms in use misidentified Asian and African American faces at a higher rate than white faces, with some one-to-one matching tools misidentifying people of color up to 100 times more frequently than white people. Advocates have also warned that unchecked use could lead to civil liberty violations.
That’s fueled more demand for temporary bans, while more strict policies can be written. Cities like San Francisco, Oakland, CA and Somerville, MA have all passed bans, with Cambridge, MA passing one this month.
In the U.S., most regulation has happened on the local level, although House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-NY, said at a hearing last week that the committee is "committed to introducing and marking up common-sense facial recognition legislation in the very near future.” A senior committee aide did not say whether a temporary ban was on the table in those discussions, only that “no decisions have been made” and the bill was being drafted with Republican input.
However, bans could mean that governments miss out on potential security benefits, especially as the technology improves, said Jake Parker, senior director of government relations for the Security Industry Association.
"From our perspective, the most sensible thing to do is promote greater transparency and accountability,” Parker told Smart Cities Dive. "If this becomes a trend, you’ll have a chilling effect eventually on the use of this technology in other parts of the country."