Thursday, May 6, 2021

Why 2020 has been a pivotal and contradictory year for facial recognition

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“The Clearview story really scared a lot of people – as it should be,” says Jameson Spivack, policy associate at the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown University. Many of the concerns relate to the fragmentation of the domain. While large companies like IBM and Microsoft are strong forces, there are also many small private companies, like ClearviewAI and NtechLab, which operate with little public oversight. The report also revealed how little the public was aware of the government’s widespread use of technology.

The catalyst: racing events

These stories have raised awareness of the issues, but Spivack says the Black Lives Matter protests after George Floyd’s murder were the “single biggest catalyst” for legislation limiting the use of facial recognition in the United States. Americans suddenly began to reexamine the police and its tools, policies and culture.

The concern began to grow after researchers Joy Buolamwini and Timnit Gebru discovered and documented racial bias in commercial facial recognition products in 2018, which led several cities and states to pass laws which prevented police from using facial recognition in conjunction with body cameras.

But during the biggest protest movement in American history, the activists were worried that police surveillance technologies would be used for retaliation. It has since been confirmed that at least the New York, Miami, and Washington, DC, Police Departments used facial recognition to monitor protesters.

On June 1 in Washington, DC, police used pepperballs and tear gas to repel protesters in Lafayette Square so President Trump could mark a photo op at a nearby church. Amid the chaos, a protester hit a policeman. A few days later, officers found a photo of the man on Twitter and scanned it through their facial recognition system, obtained a match, and made an arrest. Similarly in Miami, a woman accused of throwing stones at police during a protest was arrested on the basis of a facial recognition match.

Spivack has seen grassroots anti-facial recognition activists working closely with police reform groups throughout the summer and fall, led by other advocacy groups like the American Civil. Liberties Union. In Portland, Oregon, a protester even created a facial recognition system to identify anonymous police officers.

As 2020 progressed, legislation to limit the use of this technology by police was proposed at the municipal, state and even federal levels. In June, Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill that would ban the use of facial recognition by federal law enforcement. In Vermont, a governor’s order created a statewide ban on government use of technology. In Massachusetts, the cities of Cambridge and Boston banned the technology this summer, and the state government approved a ban on facial recognition for public agencies, including law enforcement, in December; Governor Charlie Baker is currently refuse to sign the invoice.

California launched its own statewide legislative debate in May, and the cities of San Francisco and Oakland have already banned the use of facial recognition by law enforcement. In July, New York City instituted a moratorium on facial recognition in schools until 2022. In Portland, Oregon, a new city-wide ban prohibits the use of the technology by any group public or private.

But this change is not happening everywhere, as the re-engagement in surveillance in Detroit shows. Spivack believes that racial power dynamics could influence the political struggle around police surveillance. “If you look at a lot of the cities that were among the first to ban facial recognition, they were generally – not always, but generally – richer, whiter, very progressive, with perhaps more political capital and ability to impact more lawmakers as well as more marginalized communities, ”he said.

A national perspective?

However, the whole reaction did not take the form of legislation. In early June, IBM announced that it had stopped selling its facial recognition products. Amazon and Microsoft have followed suit by temporarily halting their contracts with law enforcement. And in July, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against ClearviewAI for failing to comply with the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act – the company’s first full court challenge.

Microsoft, Amazon, IBM and industry groups like the Security Industry Association are gearing up for a fight. They dramatically increased lobbying on facial recognition from 2018 to 2019, and 2020 is expected to show an even larger increase. Many are in favor of more regulation, but not of bans. Amazon’s moratorium will end in June, and Microsoft’s is dependent on the establishment of federal law.

Meanwhile, the ACLU continues to draft legislation to ban the technology. A statement on its website says the organization is “taking to courts, streets, legislatures, city councils and even corporate boards to defend our rights against the growing dangers of this non-surveillance technology. regulated ”.

The priorities of the new administration will also shape regulation in 2021 and beyond. As presidential candidate Kamala Harris cited facial recognition regulation under the law as part of its police reform plan. If the administration pushes for federal legislation, it is more likely to become a national issue, with the result that fewer resources will be spent on more local surveillance campaigns. But if not, the fight will likely continue to unfold at the state and city level.

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