Facial Recognition in the Public Sector: The Policy Landscape

Brief by Rashida Richardson: “Facial-recognition technology is increasingly common throughout society. We can unlock our phones with our faces, smart doorbells let us know who is outside our home, and sentiment analysis allows potential employers to screen interviewees for desirable traits. In the public sector, facial recognition is now in widespread use—in schools, public housing, public transportation, and other areas. Some of the most worrying applications of the technology are in law enforcement, with police departments and other bodies in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere around the world using public and private databases of photos to identify criminal suspects and conduct real-time surveillance of public spaces.

Despite the widespread use of facial recognition and the concerns it presents for privacy and civil liberties, this technology is only subject to a patchwork of laws and regulations. Certain jurisdictions have imposed bans on its use while others have implemented more targeted interventions. In some cases, laws and regulations written to address other technologies may apply to facial recognition as well.

This brief first surveys how facial-recognition technology has been deployed in the public sector around the world. It then reviews the spectrum of proposed and pending laws and regulations that seek to mitigate or address human and civil rights concerns associated with government use of facial recognition, including:

  • moratoriums and bans
  • standards, limitations, and requirements regarding databases or data sources
  • data regulations
  • oversight and use requirements
  • government commissions, consultations, and studies…(More)”