Since 2001, law enforcement has used facial recognition technology as an essential tool in their criminal investigations. Since 2016, one out of two images of American citizens has been placed into a law enforcement database. The system purportedly removes human bias when trying to identify suspects.
While considered cutting-edge, specific problems have arisen when it comes to identifying so-called “suspects.” Studies from the Georgetown Center for Privacy Technology reveal that the technology is more likely to misidentify people of color, resulting in false arrests.
Flaws in the system?
The report cites serious flaws that question the software’s reliability. Add to that law enforcement using the system for probable cause to arrest suspects, going against its initial policy to use it for leads to potential criminal activity.
Documented cases exist where arrests have occurred upon discovering the image. However, the use of the technology is not typically disclosed to a suspect’s criminal defense lawyer, nor is it used as favorable material evidence that could lead to the dismissal of the case or a not-guilty verdict.
Potential pitfalls and outright mistakes are countless, particularly in the defendant’s right to a fair trial.
Various studies focus on the accuracy and the inaccuracy of the algorithms. The National Institute of Standards and Technology has certain steps in place to conduct vendor tests, providing researchers and law enforcement departments valuable tools in identifying the strengths and deficiencies of facial recognition.
Putting aside the technological aspects, certain levels of human judgment, psychology, and forensic science are necessary. Simply put, people are not innately accurate when trying to identify unfamiliar faces. Law enforcement could very well be relying on something that lacks reliability.
Facial recognition is a powerful tool for law enforcement. However, that power could see criminal suspects wrongfully arrested and taking plea deals, despite their claims of innocence. Misidentifying a suspect could result in criminal convictions. More research and data are needed. The rights of the accused depend on it.