General Intelligence

The Facial Recognition Backlash Is Here

But will the current bans last?

Dave Gershgorn
OneZero
Published in
4 min readDec 18, 2020

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Photo: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

OneZero’s General Intelligence is a roundup of the most important artificial intelligence and facial recognition news of the week.

The facial recognition industry has been quietly working alongside law enforcement, military organizations, and private companies for years, leveraging 40-year old partnerships originally centered around fingerprint databases.

But in 2020, the industry faced an unexpected reckoning.

February brought an explosive New York Times report on Clearview AI, a facial recognition company that had scraped billions of images from social media to create an all-encompassing database, and quietly gave it to thousands of police departments and companies across the world.

A ubiquitous facial recognition database weaponizing public social media profiles to create tools for law enforcement and private security was a splash of cold water for those who hadn’t yet understood what the facial recognition industry had become. Now the technology has never been easier to implement by corporations and law enforcement, and the ramifications of the technology have never been more serious.

Across the United States, bans on police use of facial recognition had started in 2019 with San Francisco. But in 2020 they proliferated, thanks to activist pressure from organizations like the ACLU, Fight For The Future, and AI Now. Portland, Oregon, instituted one of the strictest facial recognition laws in the world, and by far the most restrictive in the country, which prohibits private businesses from using the technology on their own premises. This means businesses like Walmart wouldn’t be able to use facial recognition to track customers in their stores.

“This is really about making sure that we are prioritizing our most vulnerable community members and community members of color,” Portland City Council Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said in Kate Kaye’s report earlier this year for OneZero.

Portland, Maine, also banned police use of the technology this year, alongside bans and temporary moratoriums in Madison, Wisconsin; Springfield, Massachusetts; Cambridge, Massachusetts

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Dave Gershgorn
OneZero

Senior Writer at OneZero covering surveillance, facial recognition, DIY tech, and artificial intelligence. Previously: Qz, PopSci, and NYTimes.