Um, no thanks.
It’s time for yet another entry into the series of politicians making dumb decisions! This time, the honor goes to New York, where facial recognition may be used to “card” people. While nothing is official just yet, I’m putting the legislation on the dumb decision list anyway because its mere conception is ridiculous.
The legislation proposes that facial recognition be allowed to be used to verify people’s ages to purchase alcohol and tobacco products. Quick note: The legislation consistently refers to biometric identification, which just means you’re using body measurements and physical characteristics to “recognize” somebody. Facial recognition falls under that category.
Right now, the bill is being framed as both a time saver and way to cut down on fake IDs. The New York Post reported that the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. James Skoufis (D), envisions establishments like bars saving biometric information like your face, fingerprints, or even retina scans. That way returning customers won’t have to bother with remembering their ID.
“This is the new frontier of age verification,” Skoufis told the New York Post. “It does advance the interests of convenience.” If you’re worried about privacy, the legislation sys that businesses can’t sell any data they collect to third parties and it needs to be encrypted.
But honestly? None of that is enough.
“This is a horrifying invitation for identity theft,” Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, told the New York Post. “If one bar or restaurant gets hacked, our identities are compromised for the rest of our lives. … [M]ore biometric data potentially expands the power of government agencies to track us because this data is just going to be one court order away from being turned into a policing tool.”
The invasiveness and potential to increase mass surveillance aside, I’m sitting with the irony of the New York Post claiming that this legislation could “put a real dent in the fake ID market.”
I’m going to confidently predict that it will not.
First of all, biometric identification is not the flawless system that so many people believe it to be. Facial recognition sucks at recognizing anyone who isn’t a cis white man. In 2019, researchers testing popular services found they can’t classify transgender or non-binary people. Another 2019 study showed that Amazon’s Rekognition often classified dark-skinned women as men.
These problems aren’t popping up out of nowhere. While facial recognition is often framed as neutral, that’s far from the truth. These programs take the biases of their builder and embed them into code.
With that in mind, I don’t think facial recognition would cut down on fake IDs. Honestly, I’m just thinking about Black people I know that look nothing alike but traded IDs between each other anyway because, well, you know. And overall, there are just too many issues with the accuracy of biometric identification (automated or otherwise) to put much stock into it. Physical IDs are already biometric identification and, yet, we still have fakes.
Want my prediction for what this legislation will do? Here it is: It will only serve to open up already vulnerable communities to increased policing and harassment.