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Science and Technology, Law and Politics

Facial Recognition and Criminal Justice

To use or not to use

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  • Facial recognition is artificial intelligence (A.I.) used to identify a person by a photo or video of their face. [Pew Research Center

  • Facial recognition A.I. improves itself using a process called “deep learning” to analyze data from many faces, finding patterns and improving itself. [MIT Technology Review

  • This technology can recognize objects and faces from photos and videos, of both high and low-resolution. [MIT Technology Review

  • Facial recognition is becoming common in everyday technology, such as the unlock feature in newer iPhone models and Facebook photo tags. [MIT Technology Review]

  • Facial recognition can be used in fields where personal records are valuable, like law enforcement, healthcare, and business. [Pew Research Center



CIVICS: The Fourth Amendment protects the government from unlawfully seizing your personal information, but not your personal information online. [National Constitution CenterThe Supreme Court has interpreted several amendments to have protections on online privacy. Learn more about how the Supreme Court has interpreted our right to online privacy here.


SOCIAL: Although the U.S. Constitution contains no explicit right to online privacy, some Americans feel their privacy is being violated by law enforcement through facial recognition.



Increase public safety

  • Sep. 2019: 56% of Americans trust law enforcement to use facial recognition, 59% think it’s OK to use for safety in public spaces.  [Pew Research Center

Only track suspected criminals

  • Police use A.I. to aid investigations, not to keep a database of citizens. [NPR

  • Many Americans prefer not to trust tech companies and advertisers with facial recognition because of conflicts of interest. [Pew Research CenterThey trust law enforcement who has less to gain from population tracking.

Political support

  • Sep. 2019: “And Republicans (including those who lean toward the Republican Party) are somewhat more accepting of facial recognition when used by law enforcement relative to Democrats and Democratic leaners – although a majority of each group finds this acceptable.” [Pew Research Center


Violates personal privacy

  • Some U.S. cities like San Francisco fear abuse of facial recognition technology and have banned it. [NPR]

  • Report from the A.I. Now Institute calls for increased regulation like warnings for citizens indicating the use of facial recognition. [Pew Research Center

Racial bias

  • The ACLU found Amazon's Rekognition software falsely identified 28 members of congress as being criminals. [The Guardian]

  • The same A.I. disproportionately misidentified people of color to criminality, with no criminal data. [MIT Technology Review

  • Fewer people of color and Hispanic Americans support facial recognition in law enforcement than majority white Americans. [Pew Research Center43% of Black Americans trust facial recognition. [Pew Research Center

Political opposition

  • Sep. 2019: “Several groups express relatively low levels of trust in law enforcement agencies to use facial recognition responsibly – most notably lack adults, younger people and those who identify as Democrats.” [MIT Technology Review


  • Americans are calling for increased regulation and transparency. [MIT Technology Review

  • Aug. 2019: According to Bloomberg Media’s Head of Engineering, “we are in the early phases of machine learning and have a long way to go before we begin to plateau”. The debate is expected to continue. [Bloomberg

  • Aug. 2019: Former 2020 Democratic candidate for president, Bernie Sanders, has called for a federal ban on police use of facial recognition. [The Verge]

  • Jun. 2020: Amazon is banning law enforcement from using their facial recognition software over worries the police will misuse the technology against Black American communities. CEO Jeff Bezos also called for more government regulation. [The Wall Street Journal]


  • China relies on facial recognition technology to monitor their citizens. Read how other countries are using facial recognition here.

  • Will knowledge of the increasing use of facial recognition for legal investigations help prevent crime?

  • Should American citizens worry about phones, computers, and other electronic devices with front-facing cameras?

  • Check out TED’s 7 fascinating facts about the future of facial recognition here

  • Dive deep into Google's failed attempt to fix their facial recognition errors with people of dark skin tones.

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