Technology law needs to be updated to protect Illinoisans
A rising crime rate threatening both our safety and Illinois' worldwide reputation is high on anyone's list of problems. As it always has, intelligent use of technology can provide us with part of the solution -- but only if our state legislators let it.
Key to the solution is the rapidly advancing use of biometrics in security systems, which can help prevent organized retail theft and shoplifting by helping staff identify and intercept known perpetrators before they commit a repeat offense, or in facilitating post-incident investigations. These advanced technologies can also keep employees safe by helping staff identify potentially dangerous situations, such as entry by a disgruntled former employee before they commit the next workplace tragedy. They can also help protect women and children by alerting staff when prohibited individuals attempt to enter a facility like a private school or day care, such as those who have issued threats or have restraining orders placed against them, parents in bad custody disputes or registered sex offenders.
Despite a worrisome increase in crime, Illinois is the only state in the nation with statutory restrictions that have the effect of preventing private entities from leveraging these safety and security tools. Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) was passed in 2008 and has never been amended. Its failure to keep up with technology -- and with efforts to use the court system to extend the law to target any private entity using facial recognition technology -- have endangered the public's safety.
This is no small oversight. Under Illinois' dangerous framework, if you are the owner of a convenience store, you risk being targeted with a BIPA lawsuit if you use a certain security tool that could identify an armed robber without that armed robber's written permission. The threat of a lawsuit would force the store owner to ask the robber for his signature while being held at gunpoint.
If you own a day care, the threat of BIPA lawsuits would force you to get written permission before using a camera to check for possible matches against a list of individuals prohibited from entering the facility. Likewise, a victim of an abusive ex-spouse would need to get the abuser's signature before even a smart doorbell could alert them to a dangerous situation.
Lawmakers in Springfield could fix this with a simple tweak to the BIPA law to provide the much-needed security exception to its written consent requirement. That tweak was filed this year by state Sen. John Connor, a Lockport Democrat, in SB 3782. He was joined by the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Rachelle Crowe, a Glen Carbon Democrat, and the Republican Caucus Chair Sen. Jason Barickman of Bloomington.
Despite high interest and bipartisan backing, SB 3782 has yet to even receive a legislative hearing due to pressure from special interest groups.
Privacy absolutists that support total bans on technology like facial recognition software rely on outdated studies to claim that it lacks accuracy and creates a disparate impact on minority groups. These oft-repeated claims simply do not reflect the current state of the science. According to the universally respected National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) test program, the top performing technologies have "undetectable" performance differences across demographic groups. Against large databases of more than a million photos, the top 100 technologies are more than 98.4% accurate overall and the top 25 are over 99% accurate in NIST tests.
By refusing technological advances, Illinois is ignoring ways to limit human bias by reducing reliance on vague subject descriptions, anonymous tips and simple visual analysis of video footage. Unlike the claims against facial recognition, eyewitnesses have been proven to be both inaccurate and biased. The Innocence Project found that approximately 70% of the more than 375 wrongful convictions later overturned by post-conviction DNA evidence were based on inaccurate eyewitness accounts. Their studies have also shown witnesses to be less accurate when making cross-race identifications.
Meanwhile, leading research commissioned by NIST tells us facial recognition is better at matching photos than humans can unassisted and that the highest accuracy results are achieved when combining technology and trained personnel.
Addressing Illinois' issues with crime will be challenging, but there are ways we can make big improvements. Updating a dangerously outdated law would be a great start. The Illinois Chamber of Commerce and Security Industry Association urge our elected officials to pass SB 3782 to help prevent the next tragedy before it's too late. Technology can help us, but our laws have to let it.
• Clark Kaericher is vice president of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce. Jake Parker is senior director for government relations for the Security Industry Association.