Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Stay on top of the latest market trends

Subscribe to Axios Markets for the latest market trends and economic insights. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with Axios Sports. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The arrests and charges in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill insurrection made clear the power of facial recognition, even as efforts to restrict the technology are growing.

Why it matters: With dozens of companies selling the ability to identify people from pictures of their faces — and no clear federal regulation governing the process — facial recognition is seeping into the U.S., raising major questions about ethics and effectiveness.

Driving the news: The Minneapolis City Council voted on Friday to bar its police department from using facial recognition technology, Axios Twin Cities' Nick Halter reports.

The big picture: Even as efforts to restrict facial recognition at the local level are gathering momentum, the technology is being used across U.S. society, a trend accelerated by efforts to identify those involved in the Capitol Hill insurrection.

  • Clearview AI, one of the leading firms selling facial recognition to police, reported a 26% jump in usage from law enforcement agencies the day after the riot.
  • Cybersecurity researchers employed facial recognition to identify a retired Air Force officer recorded in the Capitol that day, and after the attack Instagram accounts popped up purporting to name trespassers.

By the numbers: A report by the Government Accountability Office found that between 2011 and 2019, law enforcement agencies performed 390,186 searches to find facial matches for images or video of more than 150,000 people.

  • The Black Lives Matter protests over the summer also led to a spike in use in facial recognition among law enforcement agencies, according to Chad Steelberg, the CEO of Veritone, an AI company. "We consistently signed an agency a week, every single week."
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection used facial recognition on more than 23 million travelers in 2020, up from 19 million in 2019, according to data released on Thursday.

How it works: In Veritone's facial recognition system, crime scene footage is uploaded and compared to faces in a known offenders database — though as agencies begin to share information across jurisdiction, that possible database has been getting larger.

  • Veritone's system returns possible matches with a confidence interval that police can use — together with other data, like whether someone has a violent record — to identify possible suspects.

The big questions: Does it work? And should it work?

  • Facial recognition is notoriously less accurate on non-white faces, and a 2019 federal study found Asian and Black people were up to 100 times more likely to be misidentified than white men, depending on the individual system.
  • There have been two known cases so far of wrongful arrest based on mistaken facial recognition matches.

What they're saying: "Today's facial recognition technology is fundamentally flawed and reinforces harmful biases," FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra said last month, following a settlement with a photo storing company that used millions of users' images to create facial recognition technology it marketed to the security and air travel industries.

The other side: Facial recognition companies counter that humans on their own are notoriously biased and prone to error — a 2014 study found 1 in 25 defendants sentenced to death in the U.S. are later shown to be innocent — and that the models are improving over time.

  • "There's nothing inherently evil about the models and the bias," says Steelberg. "You just have to surface that information so the end user is aware of it."

Be smart: At its most basic level the underlying technology isn't that sophisticated, which makes it difficult to control.

  • Big tech companies like Microsoft can decide not to sell facial recognition software to police departments, but there are plenty of startups to take their place.
  • And as Jan. 6 showed, even individuals can tap facial recognition with ease to become cyber-sleuths — or cyber-vigilantes.
"The core technology isn't limiting. It's really more of a legal jurisdiction question, which is where the rubber will meet the road."
— Chad Steelberg, Veritone

Go deeper

Updated Feb 12, 2021 - Axios Twin Cities

Minneapolis bans police from using facial recognition tech

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

This piece has been updated to reflect that the ordinance was passed by Minneapolis City Council.

The Minneapolis City Council has banned MPD and other city departments from using facial recognition technology.

Why it matters: Opponents of the technology say it invades privacy, allows police to surveil activists and is much less accurate in identifying women and people of color, which leads to false arrests.

Mike Allen, author of AM
3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden adviser Cedric Richmond sees first-term progress on reparations

Illustration: "Axios on HBO"

White House senior adviser Cedric Richmond told "Axios on HBO" that it's "doable" for President Biden to make first-term progress on breaking down barriers for people of color, while Congress studies reparations for slavery.

Why it matters: Biden said on the campaign trail that he supports creation of a commission to study and develop proposals for reparations — direct payments for African-Americans.

Cyber CEO: Next war will hit regular Americans online

Any future real-world conflict between the United States and an adversary like China or Russia will have direct impacts on regular Americans because of the risk of cyber attack, Kevin Mandia, CEO of cybersecurity company FireEye, tells "Axios on HBO."

What they're saying: "The next conflict where the gloves come off in cyber, the American citizen will be dragged into it, whether they want to be or not. Period."

You’ve caught up. Now what?

Sign up for Mike Allen’s daily Axios AM and PM newsletters to get smarter, faster on the news that matters.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!