My colleagues are justifiably concerned that facial recognition technology used by law enforcement produces more false matches for people of color than for whites. But imagine an even less sophisticated computer system that instantly adjudicates your civil rights based on the spelling of your first and last name and your birthday, and whether you share that name with someone convicted of a felony or with someone who may be in prison today.
Well, such a system exists, and there is no judge or jury involved. It’s called the NICS background check system. Research by John Lott Jr. of the Crime Prevention Research Center shows that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) appears to produce false denials for Black males by a factor of 3-1 compared to White males.
I asked Dr. Gretta L. Goodwin, a Director on the General Accountability Office’s (GAO) Homeland Security and Justice team, to investigate this racial disparity during today’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security hearing on facial recognition technology. As FBI Director Wray did in a prior hearing, Director Goodwin of the GAO indicated her willingness to work on investigating this problem. She previously worked on the GAO’s prohibited purchases report, which revealed that there were only 12 federal prosecutions for 112,000 NICS denials.