By Molly Davis

Americans are accustomed to surveillance — video cameras are attached to businesses, street cameras and police officers’ cars and uniforms. Knowing the government can watch you has become a strangely-acceptable part of life. State legislators can limit this kind of invasion, and Michiganders should demand they fight.

Law enforcement feeds photographs and video footage into software that searches databases and social media, identifying people based on their facial features. Yet the Michigan legislature is slow to adopt effective solutions to prioritize people’s privacy with the use of this new tech. So, the government can track your whereabouts and actions — and store that data for later.

In September, the Detroit Police Department oversight board approved a policy prohibiting police from using facial recognition with real-time surveillance. Detroit police can only use the technology to examine still photos to identify suspects in violent crime or home invasion.

But Detroit’s policy fails to understand that facial recognition technology is deeply flawed: in California, it misidentified 26 legislators as criminals. When it comes to women and minorities, it’s especially faulty. Studies find that facial recognition regularly misidentifies people of color, a demographic comprising a significant portion of Detroit’s population. Regulations containing Detroit’s surveillance system need to be implemented in Michigan’s other cities.

The errors of facial recognition surpass gender and race. Tech companies claim it can detect human emotion. Of course, it can’t. Quickly adopting these technologies without thoroughly evaluating their downfalls can be destructive to the criminal justice system. For example, states rely on the polygraph test to determine whether a suspect is telling the truth, though the test is proven to be junk science.

The same thing could happen with another shiny technology, like biometric emotion detection.

Even if the technology was perfect, law enforcement’s ability to target anyone immediately, including immigrants or people of government interest, means no escape from big government.

Sounds like China.

But Michigan’s legislators could stop this spiral of surveillance before it gets ugly. They could create high-accuracy standards for the tech and heavily regulate how and when biometric scans happen. Oregon, New Hampshire and California have laws banning police from using facial recognition with their body cameras. Michigan should narrow the times in which cameras are appropriate to use.

In early October, Michigan’s Judiciary and Public Safety Committee voted 6-1 to pass an amended version of SB 342, which supposedly prevents police from obtaining, accessing or using facial recognition. But this version only applies to real-time facial recognition, which effectively changes nothing under the status quo. Michigan police currently rely on matching still photos from video recordings to their database. This bill is a positive safeguard for the future, if and when police got the itch to adopt real-time facial recognition, but does little to safeguard Michiganders’ rights today.

In a world that’s quickly adopting technology to track an individual’s movements and behavior, it’s crucial the government limits how it can be used to safeguard people’s privacy and right to live freely. Michiganders must demand stronger protections around their individual rights.

About the author: Molly Davis is a policy analyst at Libertas Institute, and a senior contributor and Consumer Freedom Fellow at Young Voices. Follow her on Twitter @_molly_davis_. This guest commentary first appeared in Bridge Magazine, an online publication of the nonpartisan, nonprofit Center for Michigan.

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