Facial Recognition Technologies in the Wild: A Call for a Federal Office

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Title: Facial Recognition Technologies in the Wild: A Call for a Federal Office
Authors: Erik Learned-Miller, Vicente Ordóñez, Jamie Morgenstern, and Joy Buolamwini


In recent years, facial recognition technologies (FRTs) have experienced enormous growth and rapid deployment. The potential benefits of FRTs such as increased efficiency, diagnosis of medical conditions, and the ability to find persons of interest are tempered with risks of mass surveillance, disparate impact on vulnerable groups, algorithmic bias, and lack of affirmative consent.

The passage of city and statewide restrictions and proposed federal legislation show growing public concern. They also demonstrate the need for comprehensive policies to address the wide range of uses across private and public sectors. Current legislative efforts address a patchwork of different applications, jurisdictions, and time periods. They do not cover the full scope and spread of FRTs.

The ubiquitous scenarios that lawmakers have not yet addressed require oversight and guidance for industry practice, research norms, procurement procedures, and categorical bans where deemed appropriate. Depending upon the application, societal, legal, ethical, financial and even physical risks demand a thorough understanding of real-world impacts. How can we manage such a complex set of technologies with such enormous societal implications?

We present our rationale for a new federal office by examining how other complex technologies have been successfully managed at the federal level. Specifically, we draw analogies with regulatory structures for two other complex industries–the medical device industry and the pharmaceutical industry. We argue that FRT raises similar questions and concerns, and has a similar potential for successful regulation through such mechanisms. Furthermore, without such mechanisms, current problems are likely to persist.


Learned-Miller, E., Ordóñez, V., Morgenstern, J., & Buolamwini, J. (2020). Facial recognition technologies in the wild: A call for a federal office. Retrieved from https://people.cs.umass.edu/~elm/papers/FRTintheWild.pdf