Civil rights activists have successfully pushed to ban police use facial recognition in cities like Oakland, San Francisco and Somerville, Massachusetts. Today, an Amnesty International-led coalition is focusing on the country’s largest city – New York – as part of a campaign for a global moratorium on government use of technology.
Amnesty #BantheScan campaign is supported by Legal Aid, the New York Civil Liberties Union and AI For the People, among other groups. After New York, the group plans to target New Delhi and Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia.
“New York is the largest city in the country,” says Michael Kleinman, director of the Silicon Valley Initiative at Amnesty International. “If we can get New York to ban this technology, it shows that it can be banned almost anywhere.”
Activists have long sounded the alarm about the risks of police use of facial recognition. The technology is less precise on people with dark skin, contributing to the wrongful arrests of Black men from New Jersey and Michigan. Last year, BuzzFeed News reported the NYPD had run more than 11000 facial recognition searches using software purchased from Clearview AI.
Banning facial recognition in the city won’t be easy. Digital rights groups have long pushed the New York City Council to ban the use of facial recognition by city agencies. Although the advice took bills regulating the use of technology by owners or businesses, he has not proposed a ban. Amnesty therefore paid some attention to Albany, pushing the state to adopt Senate Bill S79, introduced by Sen. Brad Hoylman, which would ban law enforcement from using biometric surveillance technology, including facial recognition. The bill would also create a working group to recommend regulations regarding its use.
“We could then assess whether law enforcement should be allowed to use this technology and, if so, create a regulatory framework to determine what is prohibited, minimum standards of precision and protections for due process and enforcement. confidentiality, ”says Hoylman.
In a statement, NYPD spokesperson Detective Sophia Mason said, “The NYPD uses facial recognition as a limited investigative tool, comparing a still image from surveillance video to a pool of photos from arrest legally detained. This technology helps bring justice to victims of crime. Any facial recognition match is only an avenue of inquiry and an unlikely cause of arrest – no enforcement action is ever taken on the basis of a facial recognition match alone. “
Kleinman of Amnesty International wonders if facial recognition is a vital investigative tool. “The police already have enormous resources,” he said. “The idea that without facial recognition they are powerless ignores the powers they already have.
“That kind of argument, ‘If you don’t allow us to do X, we can’t do our job,’ can be used to justify any level of oversight,” Kleinman says. “There is no stopping point to this argument.”
In December, the NYPD published a list surveillance technologies the department is using in its investigations, including facial recognition, in response to a new municipal law. The disclosures covered dozens of technologies including CCTV cameras, license plate scanning cameras, drone surveillance, Wi-Fi geolocation services, and more.
Amnesty International’s main concern with facial recognition is its potential “chilling effect” on protests and activism. People may not want to freely assemble if they are concerned about being targeted by police cameras or identified using facial recognition.
This concern is at the center of the preoccupations of Dwreck Ingram, organizer and co-founder of the advocacy group Warriors In The Garden, another member of the #BantheScan campaign. Last summer, during the George Floyd protests, the NYPD used facial recognition to identify Ingram, confronting him outside his apartment. Ingram believes the comparison photos are from his Instagram. Police say Ingram assaulted a police officer, a felony, by allegedly shouting into an officer’s ear using a megaphone. Eventually, Ingram surrendered to the police and the Manhattan District Attorney reduced the charge to a misdemeanor.