Bound by Algorithm


John Gass got a computer generated letter from the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles telling him his license had been revoked:

After several frantic phone calls, followed up by a hearing with Registry officials, he learned the reason: his image had been automatically flagged by a facial-recognition algorithm designed to scan through a database of millions of state driver’s licenses looking for potential criminal false identities. The algorithm had determined that Gass looked sufficiently like another Massachusetts driver that foul play was likely involved—and the automated letter from the Registry of Motor Vehicles was the end result.

The RMV itself was unsympathetic, claiming that it was the accused individual’s “burden” to clear his or her name in the event of any mistakes, and arguing that the pros of protecting the public far outweighed the inconvenience to the wrongly targeted few.

“Sorry for the inconvenience, Comrade — won’t you please stand in line to pick up the proper forms? We will review them at our leisure.”

This, in the birthplace of American liberty.