Is Law Enforcement Using Technology to Invade Your Privacy?

What is Facial Recognition & How is it used?

According to the Center for Strategic & International Studies, facial recognition is a way of using software to determine the similarity between two face images in order to evaluate a claim. 

To date, the technology is used for many different purposes. Our most common use for it is when we sign into our phones using our faces and/or approving purchases. Thanks to this innovative technology, today’s youth will never know the struggle of having to push multiple digits to unlock your phone prior to sending a text message or making a call. The struggles of having to carry actual cash around, as opposed to using things such as Apple Pay, will continue to be a foreign for them as Tik Tok is to my super senior grandfather. I digress. 

Facial recognition technology is also used to search for a particular person in a database of photos. For example, law enforcement officers could use it to search traditional “mugshot” databases, as well as social media platforms and drivers license records when looking for a person of interest. 

Sage advice from The Center for Strategic & International Studies suggests this robust tool should be used only to “aid human decision making rather than replace it.” So, facial recognition must be used with extreme attention and supervision, in order to ensure mistakes are few and far between. 

Why is the use of Facial Recognition technology problematic?

While police officials boast that “it only makes sense,” to take advantage of new technology advances like GPS monitoring through cell phones and facial recognition, there are quite a few problems with this new level of public scrutiny.

In fact, it is so unpopular, in 2021 the General Assembly unanimously passed legislation to forbid local law enforcement and campus police from using it, making Virginia first in the South to adopt one of the nation’s strictest facial recognition bans

According to republican Senator Bryce Reeves, “This facial recognition technology, despite the guardrails you put in, is going to get misused by law enforcement.’”

Here are 4 reasons facial recognition technology should continued to be outlawed in Virginia:

  1. Legislation introduced this year would allow more law enforcement agencies to have access to facial recognition technology. Right now, only the Virginia State Police have access, which is still an issue. But now local law enforcement and campus police will also have access to it. Protocols, guidelines, and processes for when and how to use it have yet to be established. Giving this powerful technology to thousands of people without rules or regulations would be like giving thousands of teenagers cars, before teaching them the rules of driving. Scary and not safe! 
  1. Legislation introduced this year allows law enforcement officers to search ANY database. Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram will be free reign for the use of law enforcement, as well as driver’s license records. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like the thought of strangers combing through my personal, private pictures. It feels like a huge breach of privacy, am I right?. 
  1. Members of law enforcement can use facial recognition technology to search through our personal photos on social media when they have “reasonable suspicion”– which is basically whenever they want. No warrant is needed or even required. According to the ACLU, “Giving law enforcement access to an expansive database of photos and people’s identities without a warrant signed by a judge is reckless, invasive, and ripe for abuse.”
  1. The technology has not been perfected and has actually shown to be inaccurate when used for identifying Black and Brown people. We have known for decades that photography is biased against people with darker skin tones. So it should not surprise us 

when the use of technology leads to mistaken identity, false accusations, and false imprisonment of people of color. 

What can you do?

The only way to slow down and disrupt the use of facial recognition technology in Virginia is by putting your legislators to work. 

Governor Glenn Youngkin recently amended the bill sponsored by Democratic Senator Scott Surovell. If the bill passes with Youngkin’s changes, local and campus police departments will be able manipulate this tool, unchecked and with only a few easy to curb regulations

The General Assembly will vote on changes made by Youngin on April 27th. Before they cast their vote, give them a call or send them an email. Tell them to stop the use of this CRAZY, undeveloped, racially biased tool.