BAN The Scan : Activists and Local Leaders Call On Lawmakers and the Public to Stop the Use of Racially Biased Facial Recognition Technology
On Tuesday, January 26, local leaders, activists and non profit representatives and other advocates joined in a press conference calling upon New Yorkers to speak up against the government’s use of facial recognition technology.
At the helm of the Press Conference was Albert Fox Cahn (Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP)). He opened the conference by speaking (the full text of which can be found below) of how Albany needs to pass S79 and in turn, City Hall needs to step up and pass laws outlawing the process. As well, New Yorkers need to raise their voices in opposition to such tactics.
The bill mentioned above, S79, proposed by Senator Brad Hoylman, has the following as its purpose:
“To prohibit the use of biometric surveillance technology by law enforce-ment and establish a task force to examine the issue, determine whether the use of such technology should be allowed, and if so, propose a comprehensive set of standards for use of such technology.”
Spoken of at the meeting were instances of bias and faulty identifications wherein innocent people were wrongfully subjected to the hand of the law – which can, at times, result in life threatening situations.
One such occurrence took place in January 2020. Michigan police wrongfully arrested Robert Julian-Borchak Williams for robbery based upon facial recognition technology.
NYPD attempted to arrest Derrick “Dwreck” Ingram (present at the conference) in early August of 2020 for the supposed assault of a police officer. This was during the Black Lives Matter movement which saw countless protests taking place throughout NYC and beyond. The police showed up en masse at Mr. Ingram’s residence. We would later learn that it was through facial recognition technology that he was identified.
A week later during a press briefing, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio was asked about the incident and the use of that technology.
“Very quickly, I’ll say one, no facial recognition has no place as a tool to, in any way undermine or effect a public expression, public protest,” said the Mayor. “Absolutely not. We need to be very sparing in our use of facial recognition technology. In a very complicated world, in a world where unfortunately we have dealt with violent acts of terror here in New York City, there is a place for facial recognition, but with really clear checks and balances and very limited use. So that’s the first point. In this case, obviously there was an individual who had committed a crime. That is pertinent here, but it does not take away the fact that we have to be very, very careful and very limited in our use of anything involving facial recognition. And those standards need to be reassessed.”
A Congressional report titled, Federal Law Enforcement Use of Facial Recognition Technology references another study:
“A December 2019 NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) study of both one-to-many identification search algorithms and one-to-one verification algorithms found that FRT algorithms’ accuracy rates can vary by demographic factors such as age, sex, and race. 53 For example, false positive rates tended to be higher for Asian and African American faces compared to those of Caucasians, which may be due to the data used to train the algorithm.”
The question at hand appears to be more of whether the technology would be used responsibly and with measure – taking into consideration its shortcomings.
Visit this page, to speak up against the use of facial recognition in NYC.
On March 13, 2020, the NYPD issued a press release announcing its Facial Recognition Policy.
A year earlier on June 10, 2019, then Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill wrote an Op-Ed in the NY Times titled: How Facial Recognition Makes You Safer – Used properly, the software effectively identifies crime suspects without violating rights.
Present at the conference were the following individuals:
- Jumaane Williams, New York City Public Advocate
- Brad Hoylman, New York State Senator (confirmation pending)
- Matt Mahmoudi, Amnesty International (AI)
- Jerome Greco, Legal-Aid Society (LAS)
- Derek Perkinson, National Action Network (NAN)
- Derrick “Dwreck” Ingram, Warriors in the Garden
- Jose Chapa, Immigrant Defense Project (IDP)
- Nathan Sheard, Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF)
- Daniel Schwarz, New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU)
Albert Cahn opened up the conference with the following words:
“We’re gathered because NYC has used biased and broken facial recognition systems for far too long. Keeping an ever-watchful and automoted eye on communities of color. This technology must be outlawed and we’re gathering here today to urge lawmakers in Albany to do just that by passing S79. Which would outlaw all law enforcement use of facial recognition in New York State. But we also need to see action from NYC Lawmakers. We’ve called on NYC officials for years to take action on facial recognition. They could pass legislation outlawing government use of facial recognition in our city today if they wanted to. They don’t need to wait on Albany to take action across the state. So we urge them to also pass a bill in NYC outlawing all government use of facial recognition.
The NYPD has used facial recognition more than 22,000 times in the last three years. They’re using it more and more every day. They’re using it to arrest people for trespassing and for stealing a can of soda at a 711. This is not the sort of city we want to have. This is not the sort of technology that New Yorkers should be subjected to. And we are joining a growing movement around the world including our partners in New Delhi and Mongolia and a list of global cities to push for a coordinated action against the tech giants that are selling this facial recognition technology to cities around the world.
This is a local fight but we have to take action together as cities around the world because if we don’t, we will never be able to comprehensively outlaw this technology. Still, it’s going to take state and local action to outlaw this in the near term and that’s why New York City must act.
When people are stopped because of facial recognition – when a cop comes to their door because of a false positive it’s a matter of life and death. We know, all too well, just how deadly it can be anytime. A member of the public is stopped by an officer. We’ve seen the deadly stops of Eric Garner and George Floyd. The raid on Breonna Taylor’s house and so many others.
When facial recognition gets it wrong, yes, it impacts our privacy but it’s also a potential death sentence. We need to stop this biased and broken technology. We need to outlaw it today. We need to set an example for the rest of the country and the rest of the world. That New Yorkers and our government support civil rights.“
Senator Brad Hoylman’s words during the conference:
Mr. Cahn closed the conference by saying:
“The Ban the Scan campaign has a few calls to action for the public. Today, the Ban the Scan coalition is asking New Yorkers to sign a petition calling on lawmakers both in Albany and at City Hall to take action on facial recognition today. To ban government use of facial recognition without any delay.
We’re also working to get the public to use a novel comment process. Under the recently enacted public oversight of surveillance technology or Post Act, the public has until February 25 to comment on all of the NYPD’s existing surveillance tools including facial recognition. We’re working to get New Yorkers to let the NYPD know what they think of facial recognition. Because we believe that in the face of public opposition, the NYPD itself will be forced to recognize the failures and bigotry of its own facial recognition process.”
The following is a press release of the conference provided by STOP
Civil Rights Groups, Lawmakers Call On NYC And NY State To ‘Ban The Scan’, Outlaw Facial Recognition
(NEW YORK, NY, 1/26/21) –On Tuesday, the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (S.T.O.P.), Amnesty International, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, New York State Senator Brad Hoylman, Legal Aid Society, National Action Network, Warriors In The Garden, Immigrant Defense Project, New York Civil Liberties Union, National Lawyers Guild (NYC), the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other advocates held an online press conference calling on New York City and New York State to “Ban The Scan” and outlaw government use of facial recognition. Advocates say that facial recognition is an immediate threat to New Yorkers’ safety and civil rights, particularly BIPOC communities. New York would join a growing number of cities and states that have outlawed facial recognition, including Boston, San Francisco, Portland, and Vermont.
SEE: The Guardian – Human rights group urges New York to ban police use of facial recognition
Ban The Scan Campaign Site
Press Conference Video
Ban The Scan Campaign Video
“For years, the NYPD has used facial recognition to track tens of thousands of New Yorkers, putting New Yorkers of color at risk of false arrest and police violence.,” said Surveillance Technology Oversight Project Executive Director Albert Fox Cahn. “Banning facial recognition won’t just protect civil rights: it’s a matter of life and death. Every time it wrongfully accuses an innocent person, facial recognition puts them in police crosshairs. As the killing of Eric Garner and so many others has shown, every police encounter can be deadly, especially for Black New Yorkers. Alarmingly, the NYPD has used this same technology to spy on BLM protesters, tracking dissent instead of crime.”
“Facial recognition risks being weaponized by law enforcement against marginalized communities around the world. From New Delhi to New York, this invasive technology turns our identities against us and undermines human rights,” said Amnesty International AI and Human Rights Researcher Matt Mahmoudi. “New Yorkers should be able to go out about their daily lives without being tracked by facial recognition. Other major cities across the US have already banned facial recognition, and New York must do the same.”
Advocates are calling on New York State to enact Senate Bill S79, which would ban law enforcement use of biometric surveillance technology, including facial recognition. The groups also called on New York City to pass a comprehensive ban on all use of facial recognition by city agencies. Despite extensive pressure, the New York City Council has not yet introduced such a bill.
SEE: Text of Senate Bill S79
“Facial recognition is a biased and ineffective technology that puts New Yorkers at risk of harassment from police and prosecutors,” said New York State Senator Brad Hoylman. “That’s why I’ve introduced legislation (S.79) with Assemblymember Deborah Glick to immediately halt the use of facial recognition and other biometric surveillance technology by law enforcement. Thank you to Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, my constituent Derrick Ingram, S.T.O.P. Amnesty International, Legal Aid Society, National Action Network, Immigrant Defense Project, Electronic Frontier Foundation and NYCLU for supporting our legislation and for your work fighting back against this dangerous threat to our privacy and civil liberties.”
“Facial recognition is just the latest version of bias-based policing, a digital stop and frisk,” said New York City Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams. “This technology is a tool of oppression. It is biased, flawed, and its implementation will conform to the systemic biases we have long seen — a federal study showed that there were between 10 and 100 times more false matches among Black women than white men. We need city and state action to ban the scan and take on this facial recognition, which has the capacity to be not a tool of public safety, but a threat to it.”
“Face surveillance presents an unprecedented threat to everyone’s privacy and civil liberties, enabling the invasive power to track who we are, where we go, and who we meet,” said NYCLU Privacy and Technology Strategist Daniel Schwarz. “The technology is notoriously racially biased – particularly inaccurate for women and people of color – and over the last decade has been utilized in flawed, unscientific manners by the NYPD. We must ban face surveillance by government, in particular by law enforcement, and in other areas where our fundamental rights are at stake.”
“I am a victim of unlawful police surveillance. Facial recognition technology is another biased, broken, and pervasive tool used to systematically silence the already marginalized,” said Derrick “Dwreck” Ingram, co-founder of the Warriors in the Garden. “Lives are at stake. Please ban dangerous facial recognition technology that amplifies racist policing.”
“Over the past couple of decades, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (better known as ICE) has invested significantly in expanding its ability to surveil, arrest and deport people,” said Immigrant Defense Project Senior Policy Associate Jose Chapa. “This has included sharing information and technology with police—including biometrics such as fingerprints, and potentially facial recognition data. It is widely recognized that surveillance in the United States has increased to problematic levels that infringe on privacy, civil and human rights. New York City and State have an opportunity to curtail this infringement. That is why we are demanding that our elected officials ban facial recognition technology, especially as we move forward into uncharted technological territory.”
“Facial recognition is an invasive and flawed technology that has already led to false arrests,” said Supervising Attorney of the Digital Forensics Unit at the Legal Aid Society Jerome D. Greco. “The consequences of its misuse disproportionally affects people of color, women, young people, transgender people, and gender nonconforming people. We cannot allow law enforcement to hide behind technology to justify and perpetuate the biases and injustices already present in the criminal legal system. New York must ban the use of facial recognition by government agencies, just as other jurisdictions have already done.”
“Facial Racial Technology threatens the fragility of our democracy at a time when we need to rebuild and regroup not just in New York State but our nation,” said Erica Johnson of the National Lawyer’s Guild (New York City).
The speakers also asked the public to directly take action. The Ban the Scan website includes a petition supporting facial recognition legislation and a public comment portal for the NYPD. The comment portal makes use of the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology (POST) Act, a recently enacted New York City transparency law. Under the POST Act, the NYPD must review public comments on surveillance technology, including facial recognition, until February 25th, 2021.