It’s time to end facial recognition | Chroniclers


If you’ve recently taken out unemployment benefits or renewed your Montana driver’s license, your face is logged in a facial recognition database and could be scanned countless times by government officials in hopes of you. compare to a suspect.

Being cataloged and searched in government databases might seem dystopian, but it’s a reality today in Montana. Facial recognition is increasingly used as a tool to make government more efficient – by aiding law enforcement investigations and eradicating identity fraud. But without proper public knowledge and oversight, this powerful technology can be abused, threatening the privacy and security of law-abiding Montanese.

When the Montana UI division launched its facial recognition program in late 2020, identity theft cases went from 3,200 to single digits in a matter of months. Simply requiring applicants to upload a ‘selfie’ to be verified by facial recognition before receiving benefits has proven to be a huge win for taxpayers, protecting against fraudulent payments and saving many hours of work. .

But here’s the catch: The facial recognition provider used by the Unemployment Division shares users’ biometric information in response to government requests. Nothing appears to prevent the FBI or other law enforcement body from requesting a scan of every Montanais who has applied for unemployment benefits, whether or not they are individually suspected of a crime. To make matters worse, the provider stores user selfies in its private database for up to seven years, long after an individual has applied for the program.

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The Montana Department of Motor Vehicles uses a facial recognition system in the same way to detect identity fraud. But once your driver’s license is registered in their system, your face is automatically shared with a national law enforcement clearinghouse. This clearinghouse is rapidly developing capabilities to enable law enforcement from anywhere in the country to perform facial recognition analysis against the entire driver’s license database, to looking for a match with a criminal suspect.

If officials went door-to-door to scan every citizen’s face during a crime investigation, Montanais would be rightly outraged by such intrusive government actions. But that’s functionally what happens when facial recognition searches are used by law enforcement to scan everyone in civilian databases. Worse yet, the Montanais in these databases wouldn’t know they were subjected to a facial recognition search.

Massive searches by law enforcement are a threat to our freedoms, and new facial recognition capabilities are making them easier than ever. Florida police have used facial recognition surveillance to identify and track peaceful protesters, which can make people think twice before exercising their right to free speech again. It doesn’t take much to imagine how technology could be used to create databases on gun rights advocates, parental rights advocates, or choice advocates.

While some law enforcement agencies have adopted internal limits on mass searches, Montana officials readily admit that this is essentially the Wild West when it comes to using facial recognition.

As the faces of more Montanais are registered in the government’s facial recognition systems, lawmakers must look for ways to better protect our privacy. Lawmakers should consider establishing a transparent and consistent standard for how law enforcement can use facial recognition in Montana. This standard should require that criminal searches for facial recognition meet constitutional standards of special suspicion. The standard should also protect law-abiding Montanais in government databases from mass criminal searches.

Montana often leads the way in privacy efforts, and lawmakers now have an opportunity to get a head start on facial recognition before it’s too late.

Kendall Cotton is the President and CEO of the Frontier Institute, a Helena think tank dedicated to removing government barriers so that all Montanais can thrive.

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