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UN denounces police use of racial profiling via ‘big data’
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UN denounces police use of racial profiling via ‘big data’

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) issued guidance on Thursday for police and border guards to combat racial profiling, placing special emphasis on “the serious risk of algorithmic bias when artificial intelligence (AI) is used in law enforcement.”

The committee remarked that the increased use of big data, algorithmic profiling systems sold by companies to public and private entities, must be regulated to prevent misuse of personal data. Additionally, the committee said that AI, facial recognition, and other new profiling technologies “risk deepening racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and consequently, the violation of many human rights.”

“Big data and AI tools may reproduce and reinforce already existing biases and lead to even more discriminatory practices,” said CERD drafting member Verene Shepherd in a statement. “We are deeply concerned with the particular risks when algorithmic profiling is used for determining the likelihood of criminal activity.”

CERD has “identified that law enforcement officials, such as police officers and border control officials, exercise their missions with arbitrary police stops, arbitrary identity checks, random inspection of objects in the possession of any person, and arbitrary arrests.” The committee further noted that such increases of racial profiling are likely the result of current concerns about “terrorism and migration exacerbating prejudice and intolerance towards members of certain ethnic groups.”

The committee believes that states should carefully balance the human rights risks with their motives before employing facial recognition technologies. “In addition to being unlawful, racial profiling may also be ineffective and counterproductive as a law enforcement tool,” it wrote.

In advocating for accountability, the committee recommended that states should create a reporting mechanism for complaints of racial discrimination, oversight bodies to investigate all alleged discrimination cases, and provide personnel with rigorous anti-racist training. Finally, CERN declared that “those responsible [for incidents of racial profiling] should be prosecuted and if convicted, they should be sanctioned with appropriate penalties and compensation be granted to victims.”

CERD is comprised of 18 independent experts who assist the 182 State members fulfill their obligations to the 1965 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.