A Pew Research Center study published last week found that a majority of Americans are comfortable with facial recognition technology being in the hands of law enforcement officials.
The study specifically found that “a majority of Americans (56%) trust law enforcement agencies to use these technologies responsibly,” while an even higher 59 percent majority “says it is acceptable for law enforcement to use facial recognition tools to assess security threats in public spaces,” the center announced last Thursday.
These findings come amid a surprisingly bipartisan campaign by both congressional Democrats and Republicans to expose the risks this technological invention poses to privacy and civil rights.
“Facial-recognition technology endured fierce resistance in Washington on Wednesday as both Democratic and Republican lawmakers criticized the artificial-intelligence software as a danger to Americans’ privacy and civil rights,” The Washington Post reported in May.
“At a time when most issues in Washington generate a starkly partisan divide, members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee were startlingly bipartisan in their condemnation of the technology, which federal and local law-enforcement agencies already are using across the country to identify suspects caught on camera.”
The full hearing may be seen below:
Even House Oversight and Reform Committee ranking Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, a founding member of the Freedom Caucus, took issue with the technology.
“It seems to me it’s time for a time out,” he said. “[This technology] is virtually unregulated — but I think that frankly needs to change. Doesn’t matter what side of the political spectrum you’re on, this should concern us all.”
Fellow Freedom Caucus member Rep. Mark Meadows concurred with both Jordan and their Democrat peers, describing facial recognition technology as a “sweet spot that brings progressives and conservatives together.”
“When you have a diverse group on this committee, as diverse as you might see on the polar ends, I’m here to tell you, we’re serious about this and let’s get together and work on legislation and it is the time now, before it gets out of control,” he said.
But it appears that the public feels differently, or least regarding law enforcement. Regarding technology companies (think Facebook and Google) and advertisers, only 18 percent and 5 percent, respectively, trust them to use the technology in a fair fashion.
None of this is to suggest that the public disagrees with Jordan and Meadows’ calls for facial recognition technology to be better regulated. In fact, a poll of Massachusetts voters conducted earlier this summer found that a whopping 91 percent of them thought that “it’s important to regulate government use of face recognition technologies,” as reported at the time by local station WGBH.
A Bloomberg study published in 2018 likewise found that 42 percent of Americans believed there should be some restrictions on how law enforcement can use facial recognition technology.
Despite Democrats and Republicans’ shared concern about facial recognition technology, there is a stark difference in how they’d like to handle the problem.
Jordan and Meadows’ rhetoric during the hearing in May makes it clear they’re simply seeking to regulate facial recognition technology. With Democrats, on the other hand, you get the feeling that they want to outright ban it.
Speaking at the same hearing, for instance, radical freshman Democrat Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s seemed to suggest that facial recognition technology is evil because it was invented by white people to benefit white people …
.@RepAOC @AOC on facial recognition: “So, we have a technology that was created and designed by one demographic that is only mostly effective on that one demographic and they’re trying to sell it and impose it on the entirety of the country?” pic.twitter.com/4GHjf3Tedz
— CSPAN (@cspan) May 22, 2019
And then just last month, Democrat presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders called for an outright ban on the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement officials.
“Ban the use of facial recognition software for policing,” a criminal justice reform plan published on his website in August clearly reads.
This again speaks to the notable differences between Democrats and Republicans — not to mention Democrats and the public at large.
The public has shown that it trusts facial recognition technology in the hands of law enforcement but not in the hands of technology companies and advertisers. Yet Democrats have made no efforts to prevent tech companies from using facial recognition software.
It’s a concerning trend, given as facial recognition technology has many legitimate functions in law enforcement, from helping officials root out adults pretending to be underage refugees to making it significantly easier to solve certain rape cases.
“Police used controversial facial-recognition technology to track down an accused rapist fewer than 24 hours after he tried to force a woman into sex at knife-point,” the New York Post reported just a month ago.
“Civil liberties advocates have cautioned the tech could lead to false arrests, but law enforcement experts say the tech is a ‘boon’ for Big Apple cops hunting down alleged creeps like 27-year-old Maximiliano Mejia before they strike again.”
It’s unclear why Democrats remain so resistant to law enforcement officials using facial recognition technology, though it may be fair to wonder if their penchant for illegal aliens and other criminal reprobates plays a role in their attitude.
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