Bias in AI facial recognition puts black people at legal risk

Bias in AI facial recognition puts black people at legal risk

The fast-moving AI industry calls for caution in the civil rights community, especially with regard to AI technology and law enforcement.

There is an issue with facial recognition software within AI not recognizing dark-skinned black people.

Damon Hewitt, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, told TheGrio that the technology used by law enforcement is biased because it uses tools that do not adequately recognize black and brown faces.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – MAY 14: A video surveillance camera hangs from the side of a building on May 14, 2019 in San Francisco, California. San Francisco may be the first city in the United States to ban facial recognition technology by police and city agencies. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors will vote on the measure today. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

“Facial recognition technology is not typically tested or tested on people with darker skin,” he noted. “It puts us at risk of false accusations,” something Hewitt said is a long-standing problem faced by black people in America.

Hewitt said that the problem with this technology “is not only with black people,” explaining, “It is with dark-skinned black people.”

Hewitt uses his hometown of New Orleans as an example, where the city has been “written about” the “overuse and abuse of facial recognition technology against its Black residents.”

Facial recognition is used in many areas nationally and internationally, including in law enforcement, just one example being US Customs at airports.

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Immigration advocates have also complained about facial recognition technology using artificial intelligence.

Nana Gyamfi, executive director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, previously told theGrio that she was concerned about apps used for US immigration services often not recognizing the faces of black migrants when seeking asylum. She said these migrants often come from Africa, Haiti and the Caribbean.

US Senator Chuck Schumer hosted a series of sessions on artificial intelligence on Capitol Hill this week. On Monday, during his visit to the White House to sign President Joe Biden’s historic executive order on artificial intelligence, Schumer acknowledged there is a bias problem in facial recognition.

WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 31: Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) speaks to reporters after he and a bipartisan group of senators met with US President Joe Biden at the White House on October 31, 2023 in Washington, DC. Senators met with Biden to talk about how to move forward with legislation to regulate artificial intelligence. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

“We’ve held, you know, a large number of forums…to explore all the details so our congressional committees can get to work,” Schumer told TheGrio.

In efforts to find a solution to this widespread problem, the Senate Majority Leader acknowledged that he and other lawmakers are considering legislation to address the growing concern as companies continue to develop artificial intelligence technology and bring it to market.

“I’m making sure the system doesn’t do that,” Schumer said. “These big, big systems have biases built into them. We have to eliminate them in every way possible.”

However, Hewitt said he hopes Schumer and members of Congress understand that there is a “racial justice imperative” for regulating AI.

“You can’t have any meaningful and credible legislation on AI if civil rights protections aren’t built into its fabric,” the attorney and advocate said.

“If there’s nothing about law enforcement in (your) legislative proposal, there’s going to be a big gap and a big mess,” Hewitt-Schumer warned.

WASHINGTON, DC, UNITED STATES – AUGUST 28: President and CEO of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Damon Hewitt speaks during the “60th Anniversary of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law” event at the White House in Washington, DC. United States on August 28, 2023. (Photo by Celal Gunes/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The rise of artificial intelligence and its potential harms were also discussed at the Obama Foundation’s second annual Democracy Forum on Saturday in Chicago.

“We’re looking to make it fair and equitable,” Valerie Jarrett, CEO of the Obama Foundation, told TheGrio.

Jarrett acknowledged the technological advances over the past 10 to 20 years, but he also recognized this as a defining moment for AI.

The former senior White House adviser to Obama said there must be “checks and balances” and “standards” when it comes to the sensitive issue of bias and facial recognition.

Watch: Valerie Jarrett talks about the goals of the Obama Foundation

Jarrett believes that one solution to this problem is for the technology industry to reflect the diversity of the world.

“The people who design them… (should) reflect the rich diversity of the people who will use them,” Jarrett said.

Moving forward, she said, industry leaders and lawmakers must “look for those inadvertent or intentional lapses” in advanced technology and prevent their harm to vulnerable communities.

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