Archive for July 17, 2020

DHS Worries That COVID-19 Masks Are Breaking Facial Recognition Says Leaked Document

Posted in Commentary with tags on July 17, 2020 by itnerd

The Department of Homeland Security is concerned that according to an “intelligence note” found among the BlueLeaks trove of law enforcement documents, masks related to COVID-19 are breaking police facial recognition:

The rapid global spread and persistent threat of the coronavirus has presented an obvious roadblock to facial recognition’s similar global expansion. Suddenly everyone is covering their faces. Even in ideal conditions, facial recognition technologies often struggle with accuracy and have a particularly dismal track record when it comes to identifying faces that aren’t white or male. Some municipalities, startled by the civil liberties implications of inaccurate and opaque software in the hands of unaccountable and overly aggressive police, have begun banning facial recognition software outright. But the global pandemic may have inadvertently provided a privacy fix of its own — or for police, a brand new crisis. A Homeland Security intelligence note dated May 22 expresses this law enforcement anxiety, as public health wisdom clashes with the prerogatives of local and federal police who increasingly rely on artificial intelligence tools. 

The bulletin, drafted by the DHS Intelligence Enterprise Counterterrorism Mission Center in conjunction with a variety of other agencies, including Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, “examines the potential impacts that widespread use of protective masks could have on security operations that incorporate face recognition systems — such as video cameras, image processing hardware and software, and image recognition algorithms — to monitor public spaces during the ongoing Covid-19 public health emergency and in the months after the pandemic subsides.” The Minnesota Fusion Center, a post-9/11 intelligence agency that is part of a controversial national network, distributed the notice on May 26, as protests were forming over the killing of George Floyd. In the weeks that followed, the center actively monitored the protests and pushed the narrative that law enforcement was under attack. Email logs included in the BlueLeaks archive show that the note was also sent to city and state government officials and private security officers in Colorado and, inexplicably, to a hospital and a community college.

Given the fact that the US is number one when it comes to COVID-19 infections, you would think that the health of the nation would matter more than using facial recognition. But I guess not.

Facial recognition is racially biased, and it doesn’t work to actually catch the bad guys. But it really seems to me that law enforcement is really laser focused on trying to make it a tool that works despite evidence to the contrary. That alone doesn’t seem to be a viable strategy to me. But add on top of this the fact that masks have become an issue, and I have to shake my head.