May 17, 2019

Reports detail spread of secretive facial recognition in the U.S.

Times Square. Photo: Ramin Talaie/Corbis/Getty

Police departments throughout the U.S. are quietly rolling out facial recognition systems, according to a pair of new reports, even as scrutiny intensifies over the technology's accuracy and fairness.

What's happening: From high-tech systems in Chicago and Detroit to ongoing tests in every corner of the country, law enforcement is taking advantage of near-total freedom to deploy the surveillance technology without oversight or public announcement.

Why it matters: These systems, which scan the faces of passersby — often without their knowledge — and compare them against databases of mugshots or wanted posters, can be inaccurate, or perform especially poorly on women and people with dark skin.

Details: Two reports from the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology released today, outline both a proliferation of facial recognition systems and the haphazard way they are often used.

  • Detroit quietly bought a million-dollar system that can recognize faces in real time as people walk by cameras scattered throughout the city, writes Clare Garvie, a senior associate at the Georgetown center.
  • Chicago has installed similar real-time screening systems that can compare faces from video surveillance to the city's database of roughly 7 million mug shots, according to the report. The city claims it does not use technology it is paying for.
  • Pilot projects all around the country — from Seattle and LA to Orlando and New York — suggest that this is only the beginning.

It's not just where the systems are deployed that worries privacy advocates — it's how they're used. In a closer look at New York's system, Garvie found that the police have arrested suspects after searching the software for lookalike celebrities, and has even searched based on police sketches. These tactics increase the probability of bad matches.

The context: This week, San Francisco passed the first outright ban on facial recognition, and several other cities are considering doing the same.

Go deeper: Uncovering secret government AI

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How the coronavirus could shield Trump's tax returns

The Supreme Court canceled all oral arguments through early April due to COVID-19. Photo: Ting Shen/Xinhua via Getty Images

Here's an under-the-radar side effect of the coronavirus pandemic: It might spare President Trump from having to release his tax returns before the election.

Why it matters: The Supreme Court was supposed to hear arguments last month over whether House Democrats had the legal authority to subpoena Trump's financial records.

Scoop: Inside the epic White House fight over hydroxychloroquine

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The White House coronavirus task force had its biggest fight yet on Saturday, pitting economic adviser Peter Navarro against infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci. At issue: How enthusiastically should the White House tout the prospects of an antimalarial drug to fight COVID-19?

Behind the scenes: This drama erupted into an epic Situation Room showdown. Trump's coronavirus task force gathered in the White House Situation Room on Saturday at about 1:30pm, according to four sources familiar with the conversation. Vice President Mike Pence sat at the head of the table.

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Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 5 p.m. ET: 1,260,104 — Total deaths: 69,082 — Total recoveries: 258,588Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 5 p.m. ET: 331,151 — Total deaths: 9.441 — Total recoveries: 16,848Map.
  3. Federal government latest: Surgeon general says this week will be "our Pearl Harbor, our 9/11 moment." The USDA confirms that a Bronx zoo tiger tested positive for coronavirus.
  4. 2020 latest: "We have no contingency plan," Trump said on the 2020 Republican National Convention. Biden says DNC may have to hold virtual convention.
  5. States updates: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state is "literally going day-to-day" with supplies.
  6. World update: Queen Elizabeth II urges the British people to confront pandemic with "self-discipline" and "resolve" in rare televised address.
  7. What should I do? Pets, moving and personal health. Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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