The Face in the Machine: Facial Recognition Application in Government

When your grandma is using her face to unlock her iPhone, you know a technology has gone mainstream. Facial Recognition "is a biometric software application capable of uniquely identifying or verifying a person by comparing and analyzing patterns based on the person's facial contours." In the last four years, there has been a jump in the use of the technology as vendors have begun to use convolutional neural networks (CNN), a deep learning methodology and algorithms, for model training. A National Institute of Standards and Technology test of vendors in 2018 showed a 95% reduction in error rate compared to a similar test completed in 2014. Applications of facial recognition in government include security (access to devices, data, and physical locations), law enforcement (matching video footage of a crime to a database of suspects), and identity verification for travel.

While the technology has come a long way, many argue it still has a way to go before it can be used widely in areas as critical as criminal justice and security. There are calls for regulation by the FTC and other federal entities. While there are accuracy benchmarks that vendors must pass to be used in government, in many cases, the groups used in benchmarks are not as diverse as those that the system will interact with once fielded. Regulation proponents argue that much of the facial recognition technology was designed with the majority of subjects being white males. When the system faces (pun intended) women with dark skin, the accuracy they promise plummets significantly.

With these challenges both in technology and policy, there are a number of events to help sort out the next steps in introducing facial recognition. Continue reading

Biometrics is Finding its Identity in Government IT

Biometrics is the use of an individual's unique physical and behavioral characteristics, typically used for identification and access control. Fingerprinting, the oldest form of biometrics, can be used for much more than identifying criminals. Fingerprint sensors have long been in use to allow individuals to login to their laptops, control physical access to buildings, track attendance of employees, and much more. Today, the focus is on improving facial recognition both for access to systems and facilities and as part of national security practices.

Facial recognition holds promise for accurately identifying who should and should not be in a specific place - whether that is a physical location like a building or an airport, or a virtual one like a set of classified files. However, the technology is not as reliable as the market requires. The impact of false positives and missed identities are measurably bigger when you are talking about identifying someone on a terror watch list rather than simply being locked out of your cell phone. There is considerable work being done to close the gaps between the promise of facial recognition and the reality of today's technology.

In a world where we are conducting more and more business online, biometric identification seems like a no-brainer for increasing the security of accessing personal data. But there is a privacy concern. Using biometrics means that organizations have access to very personal credentials and a recent ruling showed that the FBI does not need to disclose what biometric data it has on citizens. Continue reading