Axon Vows It Won’t Use Facial Recognition Software On Police Body Cameras, For Now


Facial recognition is a topic that has raised a lot of debates recently, with San Francisco deciding to ban the technology from being used across its streets and California still considering a law that would ban using it in body cameras.

Riding on these seemingly endless debates, Axon (formerly known as Taser), who manufactures the body cameras officers wear, took the decision to ask for advice on the topic from an independent research board and, after discussing the issue with them, has decided not to use facial recognition on its body-worn cameras, at least for now. 

The research board established that “face recognition technology is not yet reliable enough to justify its use on body-worn cameras” and that “Depending on the quality of images compared, people may be falsely identified […].False positives provide a matter of particular concern when law enforcement is involved, because of the potential risks inherent in any law enforcement

The report adds that, until better evidence can be provided that supports the fact the technology can provide actual benefits, they should not be used. The full report stretches across 42 pages and discusses in detail the board’s thoughts on the subject. 

Technology is moving much faster than legislative bodies and courts can respond. Hence, we believe it is critical for technology leaders to work hard to understand the ethical, legal, and community implications for new technologies that are too new to be effectively covered by existing law.” Axon said on its website. “With the guidance of our board, we are committed to developing technologies in an ethical and responsible manner. We will invest in working in a transparent manner and in tandem with leading independent researchers to de-bias training data and algorithms.”

It went on to add that “The first board report provides us with thoughtful and actionable recommendations regarding face recognition technology that we, as a company, agree with… Consistent with the board’s recommendation, Axon will not be commercializing face matching products on our body cameras at this time.”

That doesn’t mean that the company will not continue to research it in order to reach a point where the technology will be good enough to provide the benefits it currently can’t. 

Matt Cagle, ACLU Northern California attorney agreed with Axon’s initiative and stated that Microsoft and Amazon should use the company as an example, insisting that, regardless how well the technology will funtion in the future, it should still not be used in body cameras. 

Body cameras should be for police accountability, not surveillance of communities,” Cagle said in a press statement.”Face surveillance technology is ripe for discrimination and abuse, and fundamentally incompatible with body cameras — regardless of its accuracy.”

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