Newly founded institute advocates for federal regulation of AI-enabled biometrics
The technology boom of the last several decades showcases incredible feats of human ingenuity. Biometric technology in particular has quickly and quietly embedded itself into our lives as we monitor our kids, calories, and homes through our phones. However, as we idly scroll, we are increasingly being watched. For example, the Philadelphia Police Department has access to more than 1,800 surveillance cameras through one of a growing number of fusion centers in the United States, operated by state and local law enforcement in partnership with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Pennsylvania driver’s license photos and records feed into the state’s law enforcement database, JNET, which operates a facial recognition system called JFRS.
As humankind continues to invent greater, more powerful, and potentially more intrusive tech, Temple University’s newly founded Institute for Law, Innovation & Technology (iLIT) seeks to help regulate them by focusing on practical engagement and the human dimension to making and using technology. Its mission is to deliver equity, bridge academic and practical boundaries, and inform new approaches to technological innovation in the public interest.
Temple’s iLIT has hit the ground running. Last October, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) announced an initiative to design a “Bill of Rights for an AI-Powered World,” and iLIT teamed up with human rights experts at the Digital Welfare State & Human Rights Project at the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU School of Law to prepare a response.
iLIT & the NYU team argued that biometric identification technologies, such as facial recognition and more traditional modes like fingerprint-based identification systems, can pose existential threats to human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. The authors consulted with a group of technologists and advocates from countries where a range of systems have been deployed, including Jamaica, India, Kenya, Uganda, and Ireland, and highlighted a recurring theme: biometric technology generates and exacerbates patterns of social exclusion, as well as direct and indirect discrimination. These technologies are increasingly affecting access, availability, affordability, and quality of fundamental public services.
iLIT provided this international and comparative information to support a call for OSTP to broaden its perspective on the social, economic, and political impacts of AI-enabled biometric technologies. The submission also urges OSTP to establish immediate checks on the deployment of some of the most high-risk and contested tools, including an immediate moratorium on the mandatory use of biometrics in critical sectors – such as health, education, and welfare –allowing time and space for democratic oversight mechanisms.
Led by Laura Bingham, a globally recognized expert on human rights, nationality, and migration law, iLIT is set to expand its practice. The institute is collaborating with the Sheller Center for Social Justice’s Systemic Justice Clinic to research law enforcement surveillance practices in Philadelphia, hosting a scholarship and mentoring program for students researching technology’s impact on society, and organizing a Mozilla Festival session on digital colonialism this March, and we are just getting started.
These projects will further iLIT’s goal of advocating for more effective regulations regarding emerging technologies and their impact on human rights. As ingenuity continues to generate extraordinary technological developments, iLIT is committed to harnessing the power and creativity of Temple University’s community to drive future innovation in a direction that benefits all.
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