Organizations call for facial recognition technology ban for private use

Updated: May. 17, 2021 at 9:39 AM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -Organizations across the country are calling for a ban to prevent private and corporate companies from using facial recognition technology.

Facial recognition has multiple uses. It’s a new form of biometric identification. The technology could identify you based off a unique signature. It could be a fingerprint, voiceprint or a scan of your iris. It’s the same kind of technology you would use to unlock your phone.

A Janesville organization is using the software to find missing pets.

Finding pets a forever home is only half the battle for Katie Swedlund, Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin business development director.

“We see pets get out. Curiosity gets the best of them and then they got to go check something out,” she said.

Swedlund said reuniting furry friends with their families is no walk in the park.

“It happens a lot, but we’re happy to help when it does,” she said.

A new system is aiming to cut down the search time.

“It’s called Petco Love Lost. It’s a website that utilizes facial recognition technology for dogs and cats,” she said.

It’s a database allowing pet owners to upload a photo of their missing cat or dog. Then the picture surfs through a database. Facial recognition technology scans characteristics of the photo matching it with animals reported missing.

“I think that there’s only good things to come from it being used for dogs and cats,” Swedlund said.

But there is debate behind this technology.

A UW-systems security expert said it depends on how it’s used and who is using it.

“The truth is your face, along with the face of 117 million other Americans is already in one of the largest facial recognition databases in the world,” Nicholas Davis, UW-Systems chief information security officer said.

David said when you take photos for a passport or driver’s license and nearly every time you do a facial scan, your photo is funneled into a database.

But he said the technology is not perfect.

“It has a difficult time identifying people of different ethnic diversity and different backgrounds. It is not perfect and it can result in potential misidentification,” Davis said. ““It can be used for good. It can be used for bad and it can be used unintentionally to accomplish either one of those things.”

Organizations like Fight for the Future are against private and corporate companies using the technology.

“The fact that it’s spreading really quickly without people really understanding is really problematic,” Caitlin Seeley George, Fight for the Future director of campaigns and operation said.

George cited reports of retail companies using it to track consumer habits and hospitals adopting the software to beef up security measures. She called it an invasion of privacy.

“This technology can be used disproportionately to discriminate against certain people and can augment bias in our society,” she said.

Swedlund said using the technology to bring home a loved one is a no-brainer.

“When you lose your pet, there’s never too much that you can do. There’s no limit to how many avenues for you to take and so this is just one more and I think it’s going to be a really really big important one,” she said.

In December, the Madison Common Council banned city agencies from using facial recognition technology unless it’s used to locate victims of human trafficking, child sexual exploitation or missing children.

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