In a test the ACLU of Massachusetts conducted using a widely available facial recognition technology called “Rekognition,” the software falsely matched 27 New England professional athletes to individuals in a mugshot database. The test shows high-profile athletes, including the Patriots’ Duron Harmon, were mistakenly matched with images in the arrest photo database.

The test is part of the ACLU’s Press Pause on Face Surveillance public education campaign.

“This technology is flawed,” said Harmon, the New England Patriots safety. “If it misidentified me, my teammates, and other professional athletes in an experiment, imagine the real-life impact of false matches. This technology should not be used by the government without protections. Massachusetts should press pause on face surveillance technology.”

To perform the test, the ACLU of Massachusetts compared the official headshots of 188 New England athletes from the Boston Bruins, Boston Celtics, Boston Red Sox, and New England Patriots with a database of 20,000 public arrest photos. Nearly one-in-six athletes were falsely identified. An independent computer science expert verified the results.

“The results of this scan add to the mounting evidence that unregulated face surveillance technology in the hands of government agencies is a serious threat to individual rights, due process, and democratic freedoms,” said Kade Crockford, director of the Technology for Liberty Program at the ACLU of Massachusetts. “Face surveillance is dangerous when it doesn’t work, and when it does. There are currently no rules or standards in place in our state to ensure the technology isn’t misused or abused. Massachusetts must pass a moratorium on government use of face surveillance technology until there are safeguards in place to keep people safe and free.”

In June, the ACLU of Massachusetts launched the “Press Pause on Face Surveillance” campaign to build awareness about the civil liberties concerns posed by face surveillance and the need to pass a statewide moratorium on the government’s use of the technology. An ACLU-backed bill currently before legislators on Beacon Hill would establish a statewide moratorium on government use of face surveillance and other biometric screening technologies until the legislature imposes checks and balances to protect the public’s interest. A recent poll shows 79 percent of Massachusetts voters support a moratorium on government use of face surveillance technology, and 91 percent think the government should not use the technology unless it is subject to regulation.

Face surveillance technology is currently deployed and marketed in Massachusetts without any regulations. In emails uncovered, a face surveillance company CEO admits to Plymouth municipal authorities that his technology might work only 30 percent of the time. Nonetheless, he pushes aggressively for its adoption in schools, government buildings, and public streets — all in secret, with no public debate or buy-in from elected officials.

A similar test conducted last year by the ACLU of California misidentified 28 sitting members of Congress; the false matches were disproportionately of people of color, including six members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Multiple studies of facial recognition technology have found systems to be inaccurate when used against women and people of color.

Falsely identified New England athletes

New England Patriots

  • David Andrews
  • Adam Butler
  • Yodny Cajuste
  • Keionta Davis
  • Phillip Dorsett
  • Stephen Gostkowski
  • Duron Harmon
  • Jonathan Jones
  • Lance Kendricks
  • David Parry
  • Danny Shelton
  • Dan Skipper
  • James White
  • Isaiah Wynn

Boston Bruins

  • Sean Kuraly
  • Karson Kuhlman
  • Brad Marchand
  • John Moore
  • Joakim Nordstrom

Boston Red Sox

  • Heath Hembree
  • Steve Pearce
  • Chris Sale
  • Hector Velazquez
  • Christian Vazquez
  • Brandon Workman

Celtics

  • Tacko Fall
  • Gordon Hayward

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