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Facial recognition could get you broadly banned after shoplifting

On Behalf of | Apr 17, 2019 | Criminal Defense |

Sometimes, the non-court consequences of criminal activity are as serious as the consequences of a conviction. These “collateral consequences,” however, have traditionally come as the result of criminal prosecution. Most of the time, society doesn’t inflict serious consequences on people who have never been convicted.

As technology outpaces tradition and law, however, the times are changing. Now, technology is putting the ability to judge people and inflict consequences in the hands of businesses. And, they aren’t necessarily making certain their judgments are fair and free from bias or mistake.

We’re talking about facial recognition technology, which is already in the hands of brick-and-mortar stores across the country. They’re using it to catch alleged shoplifters — and some could soon be sharing their databases of alleged shoplifters with other stores.

That means that being accused — just accused — of shoplifting by one store could mean being banned from every business that shares the files of accused shoplifters’ faces. In other words, innocent people could be banned from stores they’ve never been to, based on a false allegation or mistake by a single retailer.

There are no legal restrictions on the ways companies can use facial recognition technology. Stores and other organizations are already using it without telling customers. The technology providers aren’t required to ensure the users consider privacy concerns or even that they use the data properly.

Even more concerning, there are no standards in place about how accurate facial recognition needs to be before people are banned from stores. Some software might flag all similar-looking people as potential shoplifters after a single incident.

Law enforcement is beginning to use facial recognition technology

The privacy and accuracy concerns become even more urgent when you consider that some law enforcement agencies are now using facial recognition to identify suspects.

It’s quite possible using existing security cameras to track people’s movements throughout the day. A warrant is required before surveilling someone in person. If the police buy this technology and gain permission to access private security cameras, however, they can get around the warrant requirement.

Will facial recognition technology be used to convict people of crimes? Almost certainly. Amazon provides its facial recognition technology, Rekognition, to local law enforcement and federal agencies. One agency acknowledged to CNET that there are generally no established standards for using it.

Facial recognition technology shouldn’t be admissible in court until there are standards showing it is reliable and accurate. Yet even then, serious privacy concerns remain.

Do you think stores and law enforcement should be allowed to use facial recognition technology without serious consideration of the privacy issues?



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