A National Approach Is Needed To Handle Facial-Recognition Tech

Lost in the hubbub and clatter of the state Legislature’s frenzied final hours in the 2019 legislative session was discussion of legislation MaryEllen Elia, state education commissioner, to study and report on the use of “biometric identifying technology” on school grounds in order to create a comprehensive, statewide regulatory system governing the use of such systems.

Holding off on facial recognition technology is probably a good idea in the short term, but we’d prefer to see where federal guidelines go before New York takes action. The Commercial Facial Recognition Act, proposed in Congress in March, does not aim to prohibit the technology but to instead create a framework for protecting the privacy of the millions of consumers who are already subjected to privacy intrusions.

Typically, we would agree with Assemblyman Andrew Goodell’s arguments on the Assembly floor that state action isn’t necessary because the state Education Department is already empowered to study facial recognition technology and that local school boards are duly empowered to purchase this technology. Facial recognition technology is different than your typical security system, though. Researchers have found that current technology can make false matches to people of color and women while there are also valid concerns about invasion of people’s privacy.

There also must be a balance between security and personal liberties. People should absolutely know when their faces are being scanned, how data is to be gathered and stored and for how long; and that the technology will work as advertised.

The issues being discussed here aren’t New York or California issues. They are issues pertaining to the U.S. Constitution. Federal action makes sense. This type of technology is likely to be used throughout the nation. A reasoned national approach is far preferable to a piecemeal approach in which some states overly compromise security while other states trample on personal liberties.