Axon, the maker of Taser electroshock weapons and the wearable body cameras now used by most major American city police departments, has voiced interest in pursuing face recognition for its body-worn cameras. The technology could allow officers to scan and recognize the faces of potentially everyone they see while on patrol. A growing number of surveillance firms and tech start-ups are racing to integrate face recognition and other AI capabilities into real-time video.
The board's first meeting will likely presage an imminent showdown over the rapidly developing technology. Shortly after the board was announced, a group of 30 civil rights, technology and privacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP, sent members a letter voicing "serious concerns with the current direction of Axon's product development."
The letter urged an outright ban on face recognition, which it called "categorically unethical to deploy" because of the technology's privacy implications, technical imperfections and potentially life-threatening biases. Most facial-recognition systems, recent research found, perform far less accurately when assessing people with darker skin, opening the potential to an AI-enabled officer misidentifying an innocent person as a dangerous fugitive.