Volume , Number 0
Crime & Punishment
American Journalism: A Class Act
The United States in the â€¦
Stephen R. Shalom
Patriotism Is An Olympic Event
Differing Agendas in South Asia
Bryan g. Pfeifer
Bryan g. Pfeifer
Psychiatric Medications, Illicit Drugs, & â€¦
Martin Glaberman: 1918-2001
There are no articles.Culture
There are no articles.Features
Ruth hubbard and Stuart newman
There are no articles.
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Face Recognition Technology
Smile for the camera.” It's a phrase that has attained a permanent (albeit fluid) place in our colloquial American lexicon. Rooted in the amateur photography of family and friends, it has now become a sarcastic catch- phrase uttered when under the gaze of surveillance cameras in banks, gas stations, parking lots, and shopping malls. Government buildings, schools, parks, hospitals, and busy street intersections no longer escape the gaze either. Surveillance cameras are everywhere. As disturbing as this phenomena might be, the next phase of video surveillance employing Face Recognition Technology is sure to send a chill down your spine and through the body politic.
By creating a template of our facial configurations (e.g., the length of the nose, angle of the jaw, etc.) Face Recognition Technology (FRT) functions much like other biometric technology such as iris scanning, using biological features for recognition purposes. According to one manufacturer of FRT, Visionics, the technology “can find human faces anywhere in the field of view and at any distance, and it can continuously track them and crop them out of the scene, matching the face against a watch list. Totally hands off, continuously and in real-time” (www.visionics.com).
This makes face recognition surveillance qualitatively different from other biometrics in at least one important respect: it can and does take place without our knowledge. Last February, over 60,000 people entering the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay for the Super Bowl game were unknowingly filmed by tiny cameras equipped with FRT. Each facial image was digitized and checked against a database, making the event the biggest police line-up in history.
Since September 11, the proliferation of FRT has been rapid, moving most notably from places like airports (Logan Airport in Boston, T.F. Green Airport in Providence, Rhode Island, Fresno Airport in California, and Palm Beach International Airport in Florida) into the public spaces of Miami, Tampa Bay, and LA.
The non-participatory or “hands off” aspect of the technology has led the courts to consider FRT non-intrusive, hence constitutional. This is a dangerous mistake and the ACLU has been unsuccessful in challenging it.
Thus far, the ACLU's argument has been two-fold. First, they assert that FRT's margin of error is so great as to be de facto ineffective. Additionally, they claim that false positives (i.e., wrongly identifying someone as a threat and subsequently arresting or searching them) violate the fourth amendment rights of individuals against unreasonable search and seizure. While the effectiveness of FRT is debatable, the ACLU is right to find “false positives” unnecessarily intrusive.
Unfortunately, this approach doesn't address the aggregate “chilling effect” this surveillance will have on the public sphere. The ACLU defends our individual rights and liberties, but cannot ensure those extra-constitutional components of social practice essential to a functioning democracy.
Thus, the ACLU can defend the freedom of the press, but cannot address the anti-democratic effects of a near monopolistic corporate media that marginalizes investigative journalism and willingly propagandizes for government or corporate interests. It can defend our right to privacy (i.e., against unreasonable searches of home or person), but not our anonymity when participating in the public sphere. The latter protects us against intimidation and “black listing” by state intelligence agencies and corporations. One need only look to the effects of the U.S. Army's domestic intelligence program in the 1960s or the FBI's COINTELPRO (1956-71) witch- hunt to see the disastrous effects of state surveillance of legal political activity.
Imagine what would have happened had FRT been operative during the abolitionist, labor, women's suffrage, civil rights, and anti-war movements. How many would have declined to take a leaflet, walk in a march, or participate in a rally if they knew the State was monitoring them as a single, identifiable individual? The growth of these movements hinged on the anonymity of the curious and uncommitted to investigate, engage, and perhaps join them without fear of repercussions or need of explanation.
Employing FCT in public spaces fosters mistrust and non- participation, further eroding an already endangered civic culture. The task of preventing this surveillance of public spaces is one we must take up. Our strategy can begin by vigorously participating in and thereby strengthening exactly that which is under attack—the public sphere itself. Z
Chad Kautzer heads the Social Justice Alliance in Stony Brook, New York.