Howard, John J., Sirotin, Yevgeniy B., Tipton, Jerry L., and Vemury, Arun R.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Science and Technology Directorate, Technical Paper Series
Publication year: 2021

Human face features can be used to determine individual identity as well as demographic information like gender and race. However, the extent to which black-box commercial face recognition algorithms (CFRAs) use gender and race features to determine identity is poorly understood despite increasing deployments by government and industry. In this study, we quantified the degree to
which gender and race features influenced face recognition similarity scores between different people, i.e. non-mated scores. We ran this study using five different CFRAs and a sample of 333 diverse test subjects. As a control, we compared the behavior of these non-mated distributions to a commercial iris recognition algorithm (CIRA). Confirming prior work, all CFRAs produced higher similarity scores for people of the same gender and race, an effect known as “broad homogeneity.” No such effect was observed for the CIRA. Next, we applied principal components analysis (PCA) to similarity score matrices. We show that some principal components (PCs) of CFRAs cluster people by gender and race, but the majority do not. Demographic clustering in the PCs accounted for only 10% of the total CFRA score variance. No clustering was observed for the CIRA. This demonstrates that, although CFRAs use some gender and race features to establish identity, most features utilized by current CFRAs are unrelated to gender and race, similar to the iris texture patterns utilized by the CIRA. Finally, reconstruction of similarity score matrices using only PCs that showed no demographic clustering reduced broad homogeneity effects, but also decreased the separation between mated and non-mated scores. This suggests it is possible for CFRAs to operate on features unrelated to gender and race, albeit with somewhat lower recognition accuracy, but that this is not the current commercial practice