Portland Bans Facial Recognition Software

Portland has become the fifth U.S city to block the use of facial recognition software.

Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty introduced a bill jointly that restricted use of the technology. It passed unanimously Wednesday, September 9, 2020.

The new law prevents police departments from using facial recognition software to identify suspects. It also keeps private businesses from using this software.

Delta Airlines had already began to use this software to allow entry onto flights. Moreover, a convenience store in Portland also used it to identify customers and grant store access.

Proponents of the software believe that there are many industries that would benefit from using it. However, facial recognition poses a threat for many reasons.

Why is facial recognition software problematic?

There could be consequences of collecting information without consent. This practice could result in the mishandling or selling of personal data.

Facial recognition software also contains flaws that make it unreliable for its proposed uses. An MIT study found that it showed a clear bias against women and those with darker complexions, often misidentifying them. According to a police department in Detroit, that misidentification occurred 96% of the time, resulting in wrongful arrests. 

“I don’t think anyone in their right mind would use a GPS that is wrong 96% of the time.  You would never get anywhere, especially on time!  So, why would a police department or business arrest someone or ban them from their store based on facial recognition that is inaccurate so often?” said RJ Arhar, CEO of Starfish Computer Corporation.  

It’s not acceptable to trust unreliable software to make such life-altering decisions.

“Imagine if you were that person that was wrongfully identified, arrested and prosecuted, explained RJ Arhar. “Either the technology is not good enough or the people running it don’t know how to use it.  In either, case this is where the technical solution is not solving a problem, it is creating one.  It may work in the movies but it is not ready for the real world.  That’s not to say that it will not work in the future but with that high of a false positive rate it should not be relied upon.”

How Portland compares to other cities in the U.S

As of now, Portland’s ban is the strictest facial recognition ban in the nation, perhaps in the world. There is one major distinction between Portland and other cities who have banned facial recognition software. Those cities did not include private businesses.

Portland takes a step further in its legislation with the introduction of two separate bills. Each bill addresses the private and public sector separately.

The city is leading the way by protecting the rights of its citizens. City leaders hope to serve as a model to other cities that will be faced with the same decision.

Until facial recognition software can perform with greater accuracy rates, it has no place in our society. For now, the risks outweigh the benefits. The best way to protect those most vulnerable to the flaws of this technology is not to use it at all.