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Facial recognition has a new foe: The world's biggest group of computing professionals

The Association for Computing Machinery said the technology could not reliably be used in a way that wouldn't harm vulnerable populations.
Image: Tests On Facial Recognition Technology Begun At Berlin Suedkreuz
Pedestrians pass under a surveillance camera, part of a facial recognition technology test in Berlin, in 2017.Steffi Loos / Getty Images file

The world's largest association of computing professionals is calling for an "immediate suspension" of the private and governmental use of facial recognition technologies for "technical and ethical reasons."

The Association for Computing Machinery, which says it has almost 100,000 student and professional members, said in a statement Tuesday that the surveillance technology was often biased and couldn't reliably used in a way that wouldn't adversely affect vulnerable populations.

"The technology too often produces results demonstrating clear bias based on ethnic, racial, gender, and other human characteristics recognizable by computer systems," the group's U.S. Technology Policy Committee said in a statement. "Such bias and its effects are scientifically and socially unacceptable."

The association acknowledged that facial recognition technology can be "benign or beneficial," but it said its use has "often compromised fundamental human and legal rights of individuals to privacy, employment, justice and personal liberty."

It called on policymakers to support the suspension until legal standards for accuracy, fairness and accountability have been developed.

Protests across the United States against police violence and racial profiling have galvanized researchers and civil liberties groups, who have been calling for more public scrutiny and strict controls of surveillance technologies, including facial recognition, which critics say aggravates human biases and infringes on people's constitutional freedoms.

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At the end of 2019, researchers for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, an agency of the Commerce Department, found that facial recognition algorithms falsely identified African American and Asian faces 10 to 100 times more often than Caucasian faces — a flaw that was illustrated by the wrongful arrest of Robert Williams, a Michigan man, this year.

The Association for Computing Machinery follows a string of organizations and companies to issue warnings or bans on the technology.

IBM, Amazon and Microsoft announced sweeping restrictions on their sales of facial recognition tools this month and called for them to be federally regulated.