Coming to terms with biometrics in policing
Ever since the police became a formal organisation nearly 150 years ago, there is a global consensus that the police charter ought not to be restricted to a mere maintenance of peace in public places. It should focus equally on crime prevention and detection. It is in the area of crime detection that the police in most nations have lost public confidence.
A paradoxical situation –
- Citizens demand newer crime control measures which will keep them safe. At the same time they resent productive and smarter police innovations in the field because of perceived danger to individual rights and privacy.
- Their stand is that the end cannot and should not justify the means used by state agencies. This explains the sharp adverse responses to a counter-crime facial recognition technology.
- This is the technology that seeks to make inroads into the underworld’s ability to be elusive and their machinations in order to escape detection by the police radar.
Understanding the concerns –
- Discriminatory in practice –
- Opposition to facial recognition technology has come mainly from two groups. The first are those who believe that the software discriminates against minorities and ethnic groups, especially blacks and other non-whites.
- The suggestion is that there is a disproportionate number of black and non-white faces captured by this software if one considers their large numbers in a community.
- Several studies conducted in reaction to sharp protests by African-American groups revealed that more black and brown people were stopped and frisked than was warranted.
- This is, however, not comprehensible because the cameras are meant to take pictures at random rather than of specific segments of the population.
2. Privacy concerns –
- Next are rights activists who focus on privacy violation. Criticism is mainly on the ground that technology, despite the tall claim of infallibility by those producing it, has many a time been found guilty of errors. Therefore, harassment of innocent citizens is not uncommon.
Explaining the concerns –
If we can learn anything from the Metropolitan Police Commission of London, we can see that –
- The moment there is no match of a face with existing records, it is deleted.
- The citizens have no qualms in handing over their data to private companies, especially while unlocking phones using one’s fingerprint, so there should be no concerns of privacy as it is at par with that sharing of data only.
- Even when there are matches with the existing database, the data is deleted within 31 days of capture if there is no requirement for further investigation.
- The police has been able to solve at least eight crimes in recent months with the help of facial recognition.
Way forward –
- A study of 2019 by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NISDT) in the U.S. which found that many of the current facial recognition algorithms were likely to misidentify members of some groups 100 times more frequently than they do of the other groups. The study surmised that error rates could perhaps be brought down by using a diverse set of training data.
- Any modern technology is fraught with hidden dangers. There is no claim of infallibility either by the software maker or by the person selling it or who advocates its deployment. Grave errors from its use are however few and far between. The hope is that care and sophistication will soon mark criminal investigation by police forces across the globe.
Source – The Hindu
QUESTION – Examine the concerns attached with the facial technology used for crime detection and prevention. Are the fears real or unfounded?