The Reality of Facial Recognition in Montana

Tanner Avery

Director of The Center for New Frontiers

Tanner Avery
/ Blog
November 18, 2021

The Reality of Facial Recognition in Montana

While facial recognition may provide a powerful tool, appropriate restrictions need to be implemented to protect Montanans.

“It would be foolish to contend that the degree of privacy secured to citizens by the Fourth Amendment has been entirely unaffected by the advance of technology.  The question we confront today is what limits there are upon this power of technology to shrink the realm of guaranteed privacy.” – Former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

We’ve been following developments as the Economic Affairs Interim Committee continues to study the use of Facial Recognition in Montana. This week we submitted a formal comment to the committee, identifying concerns we have about the current system regulating the use of facial recognition. 

Facial recognition has been touted as a technology that has the ability to make government more efficient by helping to prevent fraud for things like unemployment. There is little doubt that the technology has a lot of potential, but there is still huge potential for abuse. 

Under the Montana Investigations Bureau, the Montana Analysis and Technical Information Center (MATIC), the state’s data fusion center does not have their own facial recognition databases, though they are authorized to use external facial recognition databases. However, internal policy dictates searches to be conducted only for specific cases that meet the requirements of “reasonable suspicion” of a crime.

While the internal policies of MATIC regarding the use of facial recognition are a welcome development, some law enforcement agencies may not have the same restrictions. Clearview AI, the facial recognition company that scanned social media sites like Facebook to create their database, offers their services to law enforcement agencies wishing to use facial recognition. Local law enforcement agencies across Montana may not have the same rules regarding when it is okay to conduct a facial recognition search. Without uniform rules on the use of facial recognition, agencies have the potential to abuse the use of facial recognition technology.

Another major concern is the lack of standards around how Montana agencies use and share data with third party facial recognition systems. The Montana Department of Motor Vehicles does not “allow any external access to their FRT system,” although Montana’s driver license database is shared with national databases. This creates the potential for Montana drivers license photos to be used in facial recognition databases outside the state.

While agencies like the Montana DMV have their own facial recognition databases, groups like Montana’s unemployment insurance program do not have their own database, necessitating that they rely on third party vendors. Vendors like ID.ME have policies that could allow law enforcement “access to searches of the UI database via requests to the vendor” despite policies from Montana UI prohibiting such actions.

Without uniform and transparent rules regarding when FRT can be used, to whom data can be shared with, and when agencies can use third party systems, the technology will continue to pose a threat to the security and privacy of Montanans. While facial recognition may provide a powerful tool, appropriate restrictions need to be implemented to protect Montanans. 

For Liberty,

Tanner Avery

Making a Difference after Election Day

  1. Last week Frontier Institute President & CEO wrote an op-ed in Lee Newspapers about ways in which voters can make a difference beyond election day. Be sure to check out the full article here.

“From my experience, average Montanans who engage with their local representatives directly and peacefully can truly make a difference.”

Helena – Lewis and Clark Forest Plan

  1. The Forest Service recently published its final version of the Helena – Lewis and Clark Forest Plan. The plan took 6 years to create and finalize. While it does not offer specific, on-the-ground decisions, it does provide guidance for forest managers to implement future plans. The plan calls for activities like thinning and prescribed burns to manage vegetation on 13,000 acres per year.

Our Take: The updated forest plan is an encouraging development as the forest manager’s understanding of forest health has grown considerably since the previous plan’s creation date of 1986. The plan’s goals of 13,000 acres per year of vegetation management are a hopeful encouragement, but if we are going to curb the number of acres burned in catastrophic fires across Montana then we will need to expand the number of acres treated.

Inflation Erases Wage Growth

  1. Average hourly income has risen 5.1% compared to the year before. This marks one of the highest increases in wage growth in the last decade. \

Our Take: It is indeed true that by some metrics, wages have gone up, but that’s not the full story. Inflation just hit its highest level in 30 years, wiping out most of the wage gains we’ve seen this year. In the graph below, the blue line demonstrates wage growth change from a year earlier, suggesting promising wage growth. However, after accounting for skyrocketing inflation (the red line), wage growth is actually down for the year. Inflation is not going anywhere anytime soon, and government spending will only make it worse.

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