ACLU Asks Arizona School District to Reject Face-Recognition Checkpoints

December 17, 2003

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

PHOENIX -- The American Civil Liberties Union today asked state education officials and the Washington Elementary School District Board to reconsider a plan to install facial recognition-enabled video cameras at Royal Palm Middle School to identify sex offenders and missing children who visit the school.

""The deployment of face-recognition betrays an embarrassing lack of knowledge about this technology and its limitations,"" said Barry Steinhardt, Director of the ACLU's Technology and Liberty Program. ""Even companies that sell this technology now acknowledge that it is not effective when deployed in public places.""  

The proposed system would purportedly alert the authorities to the presence of any sex offenders or missing children who a) visit the school office b) are included in the photographic database used by the software, and c) are properly recognized by the software.

""Certainly we all want to keep children safe, but installing face recognition technology in schools will not achieve that aim,"" said Eleanor Eisenberg, Executive Director of the Arizona Civil Liberties Union. ""At a time when Arizona is facing an enormous budgetary shortfall, we should not be wasting precious education and law enforcement resources on a technology that has been shown not to work and which may well result in false positives.""

In a letter sent today to State Superintendent of Schools Tom Horne and other education officials, the ACLU noted that tests of the technology both in the lab and in real-world conditions - from the streets of Tampa, Florida to airports across the country - have all been failures. The systems have both failed to identify the real targets and generated many ""false positives"" in which innocent people were identified as criminals.

""Even if we are unrealistically optimistic and assume a false positive rate of just 0.01 percent, or one in a thousand, the police will be called to the school many times a month because some parent, student, or visitor has set off the alarm,"" the ACLU letter said.  

In Arizona, the system has been installed by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who gained worldwide notoriety for the degrading chain gangs and other harsh policies he introduced in local prisons. He and Superintendent Horne have expressed hope that face recognition could be extended to schools around the state.

""America has always been a place where you can go about your business without being tracked by the government, as long as you are not involved in wrongdoing,"" Steinhardt said.  ""If this technology starts appearing everywhere, you'd better hope you don't bear a passing resemblance to some faraway sex offender - or that the computer doesn't think you do.""

The ACLU letter to Arizona school officials is online at /cpredirect/14967 

To read an ACLU report on the problems with face-recognition technology, go to /cpredirect/15198

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