Massachusetts Lawmakers Request Firmer Rules About Controversial & Invasive AI Surveillance Technology


Facial recognition legislation received mixed responses in various states in the United States as this technology might be violating our civil liberties. The recent one takes place in Massachusetts.
Boston Government Centre from Google Maps

While technology makes our lives easier, they also create new risks and sometimes can be intrusive to our privacy rights due to their immaturity. AI (Artificial Intelligence) technologies are growing persistently and causing perceived intrusion of privacy.

According to Statista, the global biometric technology market is 21.97 billion USD. It is expected to reach 55.42 billion USD in 2027.
Statista website

You can see the growth of biometrics from this Statista diagram.
Source Statista

The purpose of this article is to highlight critical concerns caused by invasive surveillance technology leveraging a recent law change request in Massachusetts.

In a report by CyberBizSource, as Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Sen. Ed Markey seek a federal facial recognition ban, Massachusetts lawmakers push for stricter state rules on this controversial AI and biometric technology.

Pressley's and Markey’s proposals aim to narrow public agencies' ability to use controversial AI biometric software in Massachusetts.

The report quoted Carol Rose, the chief director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, who said:

"This law is an important step towards reining in facial recognition expertise and defending all individuals from invasive surveillance. In Massachusetts and nationwide, individuals ought to have the ability to search medical therapy, attend spiritual providers, and go to family and friends without worrying that authorities companies are protecting tabs on their each motion."
ACLU website

To understand the concerns better, I checked the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) website discussing the issue of responding to the technology's threats to civil rights and civil liberties.

The points raised by Kate Ruane, senior legislative counsel for the ACLU, are remarkable and eye-opening. According to Kate:

"The perils of face recognition technology are not hypothetical — study after study and real life have already shown us its dangers. The technology's alarming rate of inaccuracy, when used against people of color, has led to the wrongful arrests of multiple Black men including Robert Williams, an ACLU client. Giving law enforcement even more powerful surveillance technology empowers constant surveillance, harms racial equity and is not the answer, It's past time to take action, and the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act is an important step to halt government use of face recognition technology."
ACLU Website

Biometrics can invade our privacy overtly. The impact and implications can be severe. The issues of Biometrics are globally known and widely discussed in science, technology, legal, and ethical forums. It is a concern for business, government, and academic organizations.

From a technical perspective, the premise of using biometric software is to rely on the difficulty of impersonating the human presenting the trait to a device. As human beings, some of our markers, such as fingertips and eye retinas, are unique. As a result, they are more powerful and reliable than passwords and digital tokens. However, they come with inherent issues.

Within the broad spectrum of Biometrics, the most controversial aspect is "face surveillance" systems. These systems are designed to analyze images of our faces to identify and track citizens at a distance without their knowledge and consent.

You can also watch a YouTube interview conducted by Jackson Cote with Kade Crockford, the Technology for Liberty Program director at the ACLU of Massachusetts, about facial recognition technology. This interview covers the potential dangers surrounding the software and the need to regulate it.
Screen capture from YouTube interview video

The ACLU published a database including 1,403 public records showing the widespread use of the technology in the state.
ACLU database

According to Australian Privacy Foundations:

"Biometrics invade the privacy of the physical person because they require people to submit to the measurement of some part of themselves. In many circumstances, people are required to degrade themselves, and submit to an act of power by a government agency or corporation, e.g. by presenting their face, eye, thumb, fingers or hand, or having body tissue or fluids extracted, in whatever manner the agency or corporation demands. This may conflict with personal beliefs and customs."

The global situation of racism concerns created by AI discussed in a Tech Target article titled Rooting out racism in AI systems: there's no time to lose by George Lawton.

Lawton describes the situation with interesting examples:

"Like a lot of complicated topics, the discussion of racism in AI systems tends to be filtered through events that make headline news -- the Microsoft chatbot that Twitter users turned into a racist, the Google algorithm that labelled images of Black people as gorillas, the photo-enhancing algorithm that changed a grainy headshot of former President Barack Obama into a white man's face. Less sensational but even more alarming are the exposés on race-biased algorithms that influence life-altering decisions on who should get loans and medical care or be arrested."

AI mimics our behaviour, whether good or bad. It just follows coded logic with little or no ethical considerations. For example, according to Bryan Glick in a Computer Weekly article, "Microsoft has created an AI Chatbot on Twitter that has quickly learned how to be racist, sexist, and a Nazi."

Identity verification during the age of COVID-19 has become an issue globally. In December 2020, the US Department of Homeland Security provided an assessment and guidance to the public on this in the science and technology site. Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) is working to address how to verify someone's identity while maintaining overall safety.

The report pointed out that earlier this year, S&T collaborated with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) on a report that showed that "digital masking of face images can compromise the performance of facial recognition algorithms. However, it's not as bad as one would think. NIST found that the most accurate algorithms recognize people with digitally-applied face masks with accuracy around where it was 2-3 years ago with non-masked photos".

The use of Biometrics by legal issues is not only a concern for Massachusetts but many other states. For example, ACLU-led campaigns have assisted different jurisdictions in prohibiting police use of face recognition technology. For example, New York state suspended the use of face recognition in schools. In addition, California stopped its use of police-worn body cameras.
ACLU website

According to ACLU, several jurisdictions have prohibited police use of face recognition technology. Some reported ones are San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Easthampton, Northampton, Springfield, Somerville, New Orleans, Jackson, Portland, Minneapolis, King County and Washington. The Cambridge City Council voted to ban the municipal use of facial recognition technology, becoming the fourth community in the state to do so in 2020.

You can learn more about face surveillance from the ACLU website.

ACLU paper

Technology is terrific to help us thrive. AI and other emerging technology capabilities bring many opportunities. However, unless we mature AI hardware and software, we need to be careful with the legal and ethical implications of breakthrough technologies such as Biometrics.

Whilst these innovations bring many benefits; they may also cause humanity a lot of harm. This is where law plays a vital role in reducing the harmful effects of technology.

Thank you for reading my perspectives.

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I write about important and valuable life lessons. My ultimate goal is to delight my readers. My content aims to inform and engage my readers. Truth, diversity, collaboration, and inclusiveness are my core values. I am a pragmatic technologist, scientist, postdoctoral academic and industry researcher focusing on practical and important life matters for the last four decades.


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