Today, Axon, the leading manufacturer of police body-worn cameras, has agreed to keep face recognition technology from its products, responding to a call from its own independent ethics board.
In a report produced with the Policing Project, Axon’s AI and Policing Technology Ethics Board concluded that face recognition technology is not yet reliable enough to justify its use on body-worn cameras, and expressed particular concern regarding evidence of unequal and unreliable performance across races, ethnicities, genders and other identity groups.
Given these findings, the Board called on Axon to commit to not proceed with the development of face matching products, including adding these capabilities to body-worn cameras. Axon agreed to this and other recommendations of the Board.
Axon’s AI and Policing Technology Ethics Board operates independently from the company and is made up of experts in the fields of AI, computer science, privacy, law enforcement, civil liberties and public policy. The Board advises Axon around ethical issues relating to the development and deployment of AI-powered policing technologies and works to ensure these technologies ultimately serve the communities where they will be used.
The Policing Project staffs the Board and facilitates its meetings and the publication of its conclusions and recommendations. Policing Project Faculty Director and Founder Barry Friedman is a member of the Ethics Board, and Executive Director Farhang Heydari was also heavily involved in producing the Board’s report.
“At present, there are very real concerns about the accuracy of face recognition, and particularly about biases in the way it identifies people along racial, ethnic and gender lines,” Friedman said in a statement. “Until we address and mitigate these challenges, we cannot risk incorporating face recognition technology into policing. The ethics board applauds Axon for acting consistently with this.”
The report released today was the Board’s first publication. Whether face recognition on body-worn cameras ever can be ethically justifiable is an issue the Board has begun to discuss, and will take up again if and when the technology becomes more reliable and equitable.
The full report of the Axon AI & Policing Technology Ethics Board is available here. Visit Axon’s website for more information on the Board’s charter and operating principles.