IFC Forms Working Group to Respond to Facial Recognition Technology

General Interest, Intellectual Freedom Committee, Privacy, Surveillance, Technology

By: Julia Warga, chair of the Intellectual Freedom Committee

white surveillance camera

The ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC) formed the Facial Recognition Working Group in order to better understand the issues relating to this evolving technology and how it would impact the privacy of library users. We believe the work is urgent given that there are libraries and educational institutions who are beginning to adopt facial recognition software as a means of identifying authorized users and students. This technology is so new that many of us in the library community are unsure of what it means for our day-to-day work, and others may have experience or knowledge to share.

Over the summer, IFLA FAIFE released a statement pertaining to facial recognition: Facial Recognition, Libraries, and Intellectual Freedom. The IFLA statement highlights the fact that ALA has no policies to address the use of facial recognition in libraries. The IFC’s concern was heightened with the release of the NIST study demonstrating that there are racial biases embedded in the algorithms of many facial recognition platforms.

The Facial Recognition Working Group was formed this fall in response to these developments. The list of working group members and contact information can be found in this ALA Connect post. The working group has taken on the daunting task of trying to understand the technology and the concerns associated with its use in order to make recommendations for action to the IFC. The working group may write a resolution for ALA Council, or write guidance for library workers, administrators, and governing boards. The survey that was recently shared with the library community was designed by the working group to elicit information about the library community’s concerns.

The IFC is comprised of ALA members, representing different areas of librarianship. Members of the IFC are appointed by the ALA President, and the committee reports to the ALA Council. As always, our goal as a member group is to develop evidence-based best practices and guidelines that protect and defend library users’ privacy.

Julia Warga is the chair of the Intellectual Freedom Committee. In her day job, she is the director for research and instruction at Kenyon College. She is currently a LeRoy C. Merritt Humanitarian Fund Trustee, an ex-officio Trustee of the Freedom to Read Foundation, and a member-at-large of ACRL’s College Libraries Section Executive Board. She is a past-chair of the ALA Intellectual Freedom Round Table. She is involved in local politics in her hometown and currently enjoys binge-watching “Parks and Recreation” in her free time.

The charge of the IFC is “to recommend such steps as may be necessary to safeguard the rights of library users, libraries, and librarians, in accordance with the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Library Bill of Rights as adopted by the ALA Council” and “to work closely with the Office for Intellectual Freedom and with other units and officers of the association in matters touching intellectual freedom and censorship.”

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