New York: Police use photos of minors for facial recognition


Around 5,500 photos of minors have been stored in a database by the New York police. These use the police also with a face recognition software, reports the New York Times, However, the use of technology is controversial, especially for pictures of minors.

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The police are allowed to make portrait photographs of children over the age of eleven if they have been charged with a crime. The recordings are often stored for years. That these would also be used with a software for facial recognition, for example, to identify suspects in video recordings, is no secret, said New York police chief Dermot F. Shea the New York Times. "We have these photos," he said, and it makes sense to use them as well.

The algorithms are usually trained with pictures of adults. According to The New York Times, there is more and more evidence that they did not work well with children. It is therefore to be expected with many false positives, which means that a person is mistakenly identified by the algorithm.

It is also criticized that the images were used for years: Like the children themselves, their face and their bones were still growing, they changed. These changes could again be poorly recognized by the algorithms. The companies Idemia and Dataworks Plus, whose face recognition software is used by the New York police, did not want to comment on demand of the New York Times.

Statistics on how often facial recognition is used and how often the software misallocates people are not available from New York City police. According to the New York Times, it is also unknown how many police stations in the US use pictures of minors.

Other cities prohibit the use

The result of a real-time facial recognition system survey in London in early July is devastating: in more than 80 percent of cases, the system is wrong. Even the test of a face recognition system on tolled New York bridges and tunnels failed.

The New York Times showed in one experiment that recognition can work, however: one day in March, the newspaper compared the video images of a park's public webcams with employee images on corporate websites located near the park to have. They recognized around 2,750 faces of park visitors in nine hours. With the attempt, the newspaper wants to draw attention to how easy and cheap the technology has become in the meantime.

Other cities like San Francisco see in the face recognition technology a danger and forbid the use in their authorities. This includes the police. The disadvantages far outweigh the alleged benefits, which could violate civil rights and exacerbate racist injustice, according to a San Francisco ruling. Face recognition software recognizes not only children but also women and non-white persons often significantly worse.