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Facial Recognition Technology Sparks Rumors, Lawsuits

Technology often pushes the legal envelope, as regulators and lawmakers grapple with advancements that often do not fit neatly into the scope of existing legislation.

It, too, can spark debate in the public and legal arena with respect to what’s appropriate, what’s allowed and when the rule of law needs to adjust.

Recently, what some saw as a fun way to reminisce about old hairstyles became the subject of speculation and conspiracy theory. Tech humanist author Kate O’Neill took to Twitter to posit about the Facebook “10 year challenge,” stoking such conversations.  

Kate O'Neill @kateo

"Me 10 years ago: probably would have played along with the profile picture aging meme going around on Facebook and Instagram

"Me now: ponders how all this data could be mined to train facial recognition algorithms on age progression and age recognition"

But, the subject of facial recognition was not merely internet fodder. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has weighed in with respect to its threat to disadvantaged minorities. The advocacy group responded to an Amazon shareholder resolution expressing concerns about the retail giant’s use of the technology.

ACLU Calls for Justice After Shareholder Resolution

Shareholders filed a resolution asking Amazon’s board of directors to ensure facial recognition technology is not sold to the government without first making sure the technology will not threaten human and civil rights. According to the ACLU, the resolution will be taken up at Amazon’s 2019 annual meeting.

“It shouldn’t take a board or shareholder intervention for the company to do right by immigrants, people of color, religious minorities, protesters, and activists who are disproportionately harmed by such new surveillance technologies,” said Shankar Narayan, the Technology and Liberty Project Director of ACLU, Washington. “We continue to urge Amazon to heed calls from civil, human, and immigrants’ rights groups, academics, lawmakers, and its own shareholders, employees and consumers to stop selling facial recognition technology to the government.”

Further, reports have surfaced that Amazon sat down with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officials to discuss the use of facial recognition, alarming some. The ACLU claims the company’s technology erroneously and disproportionally matched the pictures of Congressional members of color with those used in arrest reports. Month ago, letters were sent to other technology giants Google and Microsoft, also looking to inhibit the sale of the technology, according to the ACLU.

Google Wins Facial Recognition Case

In one case (Rivera v. Google Inc.) dealing directly with facial recognition data, FindLaw reported that Google was found to be in the clear when sued under an Illinois law prohibiting the collection of biometric date.

Google was said to be creating face templates for individuals who uploaded pictures to its cloud service. A judge ruled, though, that the Fourth Amendment does not recognize an expectation of privacy with respect to individual faces.

In the case, Lindabeth Rivera said her friend's Android uploaded her picture to Google's cloud service automatically, according to FindLaw. It then scanned her face and made a template.

"Plaintiffs do not offer evidence to dispute that their faces are public--just that their facial biometrics are," the judge wrote. "This is consistent with Fourth Amendment case law that rejects an expectation of privacy in a person's face."

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