US lawmakers aim to curtail face recognition even as the technology IDs Capitol attackers

US lawmakers aim to curtail face recognition even as the technology IDs Capitol attackers

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Oakland, California: US lawmakers are working to ban facial recognition software, although the technology helps identify supporters of President Donald Trump, who ransacked their workplaces and forced them to evacuate this month.

Researchers and law enforcement have been running photographs from the Jan. 6 siege of the Capitol through facial recognition, which looks for similar faces in databases of mugshots, social media headshots or other images.

“It’s a great tool,” said Michael Sheldon, research associate at the nonprofit Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, whose mission includes protecting democratic institutions.

Sheldon said he provided the FBI possible names of several people in the violent mob thanks to a facial recognition program he purchased.

Senator Ed Markey said in a statement that the technology may not be worth the risks. Racial justice activists have warned that facial recognition can perpetuate discriminatory policing and constant tracking could become the norm.

“We’ve seen that in the wake of past crises innocent Americans have been subjected to increased problematic surveillance,” Markey said.

He called on the authorities to “ensure public safety and hold criminals accountable without relying on intrusive tools that have proven to have serious accuracy and bias problems.”

Last year, Markey and three other Democrats in Congress introduced an unsuccessful bill that would prohibit the use of facial recognition by federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Pramila Jayapal spokesperson Chris Evans said that members plan to resubmit the proposal this year.

Whether the FBI used facial recognition in the ongoing investigation is unclear. It declined to comment on its tools.

According to court records, most of the nearly 100 criminally charged assailants have turned themselves in, were driven away by acquaintances or posted information on suspected illegal activities on social media.

But people have sent reminders to the FBI based on facial recognition. Assistant Chief Armando Aguilar told Reuters that a search conducted by the Miami police using Clearview AI software provided 13 possible names.

Sheldon said the tools he refused to use publicly would look for online matches, such as on websites that aggregate facial photos or lists of university alumni. He said that he used the facial recognition technology of Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing service to carefully check the possible hit rate.

He said that the software linked a man in zippered handcuffs taken in the Capitol to an avatar on Alumnius.net named Larry Brock.

Prosecutors charged Brock with violent entry and other counts following a New Yorker article, in which researchers identified him and he acknowledged being at Capitol. Brock’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.

Facial recognition previously helped Sheldon unmask mercenaries involved in an attack in Syria as part of research into global conflicts and disinformation.

For the Capitol investigation, the technology enabled him to quickly find assailants on social media and study their motivation. 

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