a reminder to question facial recognition technology

March 5, 2020
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As face recognition technology becomes more and more a part of society, the higher at risk Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) become. As a result, the ACLU encourages us to look into society’s normalization of capturing biometric data by law enforcement and corporations as it is “known to produce biased and inaccurate results, especially when applied to people of color.” 

We need to think about who we are giving information to. Amazon is widely used around the world and has partnerships with over 400 police departments around the nation, so the ACLU is closely monitoring their use of biometric data. Amazon took things one step farther in 2018 by applying for a patent for facial recognition technology for their Ring video doorbell camera system, which would gather data of all kinds of people without them even knowing it! So what happens to this data? Experts like Charlton McIlwain investigate this. 

Like the ACLU, NYU Media, Culture and Communications Professor Charlton McIlwain has been doing the work to expose the manipulation of biometric data. His book, Black Software: The Internet and Racial Justice from the AfroNet to Black Lives Matter breaks down the meddling that media company Simulmatics did to rig the 1960 elections, ultimately ensuring the win of John F. Kennedy. To emphasize the relevance of this, the Simulmatics method was a blueprint of sorts for the interference during the 2016 election. McIlwain said, “The Simulmatics project was an effort to game the system in a way. To use data we could produce about human behavior to try to manipulate the outcomes of everything from an election to wars. One of its chief purposes was to strategically manufacture disinformation as a way of thwarting would-be uprisings, or riots, or other threats to the system.”

While surveillance may, at times, protect us, we must understand that it can easily become invasive. We need to be careful about who has our information and who else we put at risk when we buy surveillance tools under the guise of safety. Intentions can be dishonest and governments have more allies than we may believe who can access our information for their own gain.