Researchers at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore are conducting cutting-edge research on the use of facial recognition technology in the justice system. 

Dr. Lily Tsai

Dr. Sandeep Gopalan and his team including Dr. Lily Chi-Fang Tsai and Ms. Qian Leng, are studying how state law enforcement agencies are using this technology and the potential problems it may generate, such as mistaken identity due to biased algorithms, thanks to a recent grant from the state of Maryland. 

UMES received more than $327,000 in funding this year from the Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention for its “Building Accountability and Trust” program. The initiative aims to help “build systemic knowledge about the use of facial recognition tools by law enforcement agencies,” according to the agency’s website.

“I think that the research from this can help bring transparency to law enforcement and build the trust between Marylanders and law enforcement,” said Tsai,” an associate professor in the criminal justice program at UMES, and co-principal investigator in the research. One thing their research will focus on is addressing concerns that facial recognition tools have been harmful to minorities, especially African-American populations. “As a professor at an HBCU, I feel we have a special responsibility to research these topics and bring attention to the disproportionate impact on people who are already over-represented in the criminal justice system.”

Vice Provost of Academic Affairs, Dr. Sandeep Gopalan

“Facial recognition tools have tremendous potential to catch offenders and solve crimes but they can be severely invasive and violate privacy if they are used inappropriately,” noted Gopalan, Vice Provost of Academic Affairs. He is a well-published legal scholar with expertise in law and regulation. He is concerned that there are insufficient “guardrails to protect against the surveillance of law-abiding citizens without sufficient legal justification, especially given the potential for human rights violations due to flaws in the technology.” Dr Gopalan has also been working on privacy law reform in the context of online data, a complement to this research. 

Their research will comprise the collected information regarding policies governing the use of facial recognition tools from law enforcement agencies in the state. In addition, the team is also surveying legislators and the general population as well.

A systematic review of the data will help them develop guidelines, policies, and concerns with the hope of proposing reform or standards throughout the state regarding facial recognition tools. 

An online course regarding the use of this technology and its impact on citizens will be offered to law enforcement personnel in the summer.  Tsai said there could be multiple benefits in creating a course or practicum for law enforcement officers in best practices when using the technology in their duties. “This kind of research is the mission of UMES” and will “expose our students to the kind of impact they can have with research and data to build a more just world.”

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