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The largest manufacturer of police body cameras rejects the possibility of selling face recognition technology – at least for the time being.
Formerly known as Taser International, Axon has worked with over 18,000 law enforcement agencies worldwide and sells a package of products including body cameras and software. It states that 48 of 79 major city police authorities in North America are Axon customers.
On Thursday, the company announced that it was in line with the recommendation of an independent ethical board that it created last year after purchasing two artificial intelligence companies.
In a 42-page report, the ethics panel found that face recognition technology is not advanced enough for law enforcement to depend on – confirming the concerns of the criticism.
The board's concerns ranged from "privacy costs to racial equity," Barry Friedman, head of the Policing Project at the New York University School of Law, told the NPR.
The technology left certain groups vulnerable, Friedman said. It was less accurate to identify women's faces than men, and younger people compared to older ones. The same was true of people in color, who were more difficult to identify than white people.
The board also cited privacy issues that have long been raised by activists. "Although facial recognition works accurately and fairly – and we stress in detail that at the moment it is not – the technology makes it much easier for governments to monitor citizens and potentially enter their lives," the report said.
The directors included artificial intelligence experts, computer scientists, privacy guardians, policemen, and other specialists. Despite their different backgrounds, Friedman said the conclusions the board reached were unanimous. (Each member received a small fee from Axon for their work, Friedman added.)
He said he hoped Axon's recall of face recognition software would make progress in the industry. "One of the most encouraging signs is that Axon heard us repeatedly expressing the notion that their customer is not the law enforcement agency that buys the equipment, but the community the agency serves," he said.
Mike Wagers, Axon Vice President of Emerging Markets, tells NPR that the risk is obviously considering the benefits. "We made the decision that just because you could deploy a certain technology, doesn't do it right," he said. "You think about how this can play out on the street," he added.
Concerns about face recognition technology have been in place for years: It is the question of who will control the body's camera footage and whether it is intended as a tool to hold the police accountable There is a fear that law enforcement may target legitimate protesters, violating their constitutional rights; There is also the possibility that technology can lead to mass monitoring, as it has in China.
Jake Laperruque, senior adviser to a security organization called Project On Government Oversight, told the NPR that Axon's decision is a significant indication of how serious error identification problems are in the face recognition arena.
"But we can't expect the company to adhere to this promise or other vendors provided. The only way to truly protect the public from unlimited face recognition is to pass laws that restrict it," he says.
Some Places has already taken action to ban face recognition software, last month San Francisco became the first city to ban law enforcement and government technology, similar measures are under consideration in Oakland and Massachusetts, while California lawmakers consider a state ban on face recognition programs.  But elsewhere in the United States, technology is being pursued, and Detroit signed up for a $ 1 million software agreement that allowed monitoring "hundreds of private and public cameras around the city," including petrol stations, restaurants, churches, and schools. According to the New York Times, last year, Orlando tried police real-time recognition systems it had ordered from Amazon – a discovery ACLU made when an Amazon Recognition leader described the city as a customer.
Axon CEO and founder Rick Smith did not rule out the ability of face recognition technology to be incorporated into body cameras when he spoke to NPR last year. He said it was "counterproductive to say that a technology is unethical and should never be developed. What we need to do is look at how this technology can evolve."
Police executives could still pair the body camera or surveillance movie with Amazon Recognition or other face recognition programs.
Axon told the NPR on Thursday that there is a need for democratic oversight to guide the use of technology.
"We're not going to commercialize facial recognition on body cameras until the board has had a chance to contemplate the ethical framework," Wager said.
Axon's next meeting with the Ethics Council is scheduled for September.