A Call for Transparency in Law Enforcement Use of Facial Recognition

Benjamin Nober

Email: benjaminnober2021@u.northwestern.edu

Faculty Advisor: Daniel W. Linna Jr.


Benjamin Nober is a senior majoring in political science and minoring in computer science. This paper draws on aspects of his work, class, and research experience. He first became involved in the debate over facial recognition use by government agencies following a Congressional hearing on the subject that he attended as an intern in Washington DC. From there, interest evolved into action in Introduction to Law and Digital Technologies, a class taught Spring 2020 by Prof. Daniel Linna and Prof. John Villasenor where he was able to further research and write on the subject. After some encouragement from his professors, he expanded his work into a thesis proposal in the political science department. With its approval, he was awarded the Ginsberg Summer Grant to pursue his research over the summer. He looks forward to continuing with the project throughout his senior year.


In what capacities do local and federal law enforcement officials use facial recognition? How is
this use regulated?

I began research on the topic as part of a class, CS295 taught by Prof. Linna and Prof.
Villasenor. The original assignment allowed us to choose any topic related to course material. I
decided to continue with the research over the summer because it was directly relevant to the
social climate in the country and was relevant to my thesis research. This is an important
conversation, and with law enforcement at the center of the national conversation this summer. It
is likely that technological advances will be touted as a positive reform possibility, yet the
findings of this research raise serious questions.

This work leads into my senior thesis in Political Science. I plan to expand this research from
just documenting how law enforcement interacts with facial recognition to a much broader scope
focusing on how specific government services are changing with Artificial Intelligence. This is a
rapidly evolving topic with the speed of innovation from tech outpacing current efforts from
legislators to regulate. I found a large lapse in transparency of information as to how this
technology is actually used. Before future research can determine where and how regulation of
Artificial Intelligence should arise, transparency must first be improved so that underlying
questions can be addressed. Do current laws work with new interpretations? Where do new rules
need to be made?

I would love to work in policy focusing on the governance of technology. With the uncertainty in
the workforce today though, I’ll have to see.