Body cams + facial recognition = ?

It’s only a matter of time before police-worn cameras and facial recognition converge into one powerful, invasive, and legally challenging technology. In the video below, TASER’s /Axon CEO gives us a glimpse into his business model: leverage facial recognition technology and data analytics to provide real-time threat scores for citizens crossing officers’ path.

Similar technology already provides law enforcement real-time information about passerby’s criminal records and outstanding warrants. In many U.S. states, patrol cars come equipped with cameras and software that cross check the faces of citizens against criminal records and warrant databases. An augmented license plate reader, if you will. With one crucial difference: drivers partake in a regulated activity, thus justifying a higher degree of scrutiny. The case for checking unaware pedestrians in public spaces without a warrant is harder to make. Yet dedicated surveillance cameras scan public spaces, track individuals and match their identity with information in databases, the Perpetual Lineup reports.

This nexus of surveillance and analytics challenges civil liberties in a number of ways. How can the police get a warrant before proceeding? And is the technology performing the same across the board? The second question is particularly pressing, given that facial recognition is particularly error-prone with brown and black person’s features. One may be excused from mistaking facial recognition for racial recognition.

And this is just the beginning, as long-range iris scanners promise more sophisticated and inconspicuous identification in the near future.

To be continued, with or without public debate.