Lawyers threaten to sue California State Bar over facial recognition technology

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As the coronavirus pandemic moves facial recognition technology even faster from science fiction to everyday life, a test used to certify lawyers has become a flashpoint, with critics claiming the software used for them. remote testing is discriminatory.

In one letter Sent on Wednesday, the Nonprofit Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law asked the California State Bar, a government agency, to stop using software they say discriminates against women and people of color who take the test.

The committee also addressed the letter to the CEO of ExamSoft, the Dallas-based company that makes the anti-cheat software the state bar used to administer its first remote exam last year due to the pandemic.

A spokesperson for the state bar confirmed receiving the letter but made no comment. Examsoft spokeswoman Nici Sandberg declined in an email to comment on the letter and any “speculative lawsuits.”

She referred to a letter the company sent in December in response to questions from a panel of U.S. senators, saying the company is committed to ensuring that the technology it uses for facial identification “is accurate for all applicants, regardless their physical appearance or dress “.

Written on behalf of state bar candidate Ian To, the letter calls on the agency to stop using facial recognition technology designed to detect and deter cheating by tracking things like facial and eye movements. at the next review this month.

“It is now well established by experts in this field that [facial recognition technology] is disproportionately inaccurate in identifying women and people of color, ”the group of lawyers wrote in the letter, citing instances where non-white people and women had been inaccurately identified and even arrested because of ‘similar technology.

“As a result, its use will have an illegal and disparate impact on candidates of color and women candidates,” the group added.

The Chronicle previously reported that some non-white candidates were forced to shine bright lights in their faces and face other technological hurdles for the software to recognize them so they could take the test. Critics have likened such burdens to in-person test proctors who only look over the shoulders of people of color during an exam.

The test is scheduled to take place remotely using ExamSoft again on February 23-24. Some candidates who did not pass the October exams will try again.

The letter also listed other states, including Indiana, Nevada and Louisiana, that have chosen to make their bar exams “open book” to overcome fears of cheating, suggesting California should do the same.

A vocal movement in California and other states has also demanded that law graduates be admitted to the bar without passing the test through what is known as “diploma privilege,” in accordance with measures taken by other states during the pandemic.

The California Supreme Court, which oversees the state bar, dismissed the request in September, though it ordered the agency to create an interim licensing program for law school graduate students. last year to allow them to practice with limits if they are supervised by a licensed lawyer. .

The letter requests a response by Tuesday.

Chase DiFeliciantonio is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: chase.difelicantonio@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @ChaseDiFelice

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