Facial recognition is racially biased – US federal study shows

Facial recognition technology has proven to be racially biased, according to a US federal study conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

The research, which used nearly 200 facial recognition algorithms developed by 99 corporations on 18 million images from federal databases, found that the technology was inaccurate based on different racial, ethnic, gender, and age groups.

Native American, West and East African, and East Asian people had some of the highest false match rates.

When mugshots were scanned, the African and Asian people were misidentified at rates between 10 and 100 times more than Caucasians. Women were also falsely matched at a higher rate than men, though the study notes that this effect is smaller than that due to race.

Native American women were misidentified up to 68 times more than white men.

NIST said in the report: “Since different algorithms perform better or worse in processing images of individuals in various demographics, policy makers, face recognition system developers, and end users should be aware of these differences and use them to make decisions and to improve future performance.”

The study has confirmed what digital rights advocacy group Fight for the Future has been asserting during its campaign against the biometric technology in live entertainment.

Last year, the group released a list of music festivals that pledged to never employ facial recognition for ticketing or security purposes at their events. The US-based group also highlighted festivals, primarily across the country, that said they “might use” the technology in the future, or that they refuse to commit to a complete ban.

It states: “Festivals, venues, and promoters must take a stand and refuse to use this invasive and racially biased technology, which puts music fans at risk of being unjustly detained, harassed, judged, or even deported. 24/7 mass surveillance will not keep concerts safe. Silence is complicity, so now we’re keeping score.”

Artists such as Speedy Ortiz, The Glitch Mob, and Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello have backed Fight For The Future.