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HomeCrimePublic Advocate Williams Calls On Mayor to 'Ban The Scan' by Ending Facial Recognition

Public Advocate Williams Calls On Mayor to ‘Ban The Scan’ by Ending Facial Recognition

Public Advocate Williams Calls On Mayor to ‘Ban The Scan’ by Ending Facial Recognition

In January of this year, there was related press conference calling upon lawmakers to stop the use of this technology. Public Advocate Jumaane Williams was present at that event alongside activists and local leaders.

NEW YORK: Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams called on Mayor de Blasio today to ‘ban the scan’ by prohibiting the use of facial recognition technology by city government, including by law enforcement. This request comes after the Public Advocate argued in his State of the People address that “Just as we need to fundamentally change policing tactics, we must regulate policing tools – ending the DNA and gang databases, and banning the use of facial recognition, all of which threaten to be not tools of public safety, but threats to it.”

In a letter, the Public Advocate states that facial recognition technology will perpetuate existing systemic biases, writing that “Facial recognition technology misidentifies Black and Brown New Yorkers 10 to 100 times more than Caucasian New Yorkers, resulting in real harm. These error-prone, racially biased algorithms have devastating impacts for people of color. One false match can lead to a wrongful arrest, a lengthy detention, and even deadly police violence.”

He argues that any potential beneficial outcomes of the technology do not justify the harm of this mass surveillance, asking that New York City agencies:

  1. Cease use of all facial recognition technology.
  2. Permanently destroy data collected and used for facial recognition in the past.
  3. Publish data concerning each instance in which facial recognition technology was utilized.

“Technology can be a powerful tool to provide equity, transparency, and progress,” says the Public Advocate, “But is too often used to further systemic inequities within vulnerable communities.” 

On Wednesday at 6:00 PM, the Public Advocate will hold a virtual town hall with Amnesty International, S.T.O.P, AI For the People, and Borough President Gale Brewer to discuss the Ban the Scan campaign. The town hall will stream live here

The full letter to the Mayor is below:

Dear Mayor de Blasio:

I write to you today regarding the harms of facial recognition technology on New Yorkers when used in public safety and government services applications. Facial recognition technology is a form of biometric technology that produces serious harm. Facial recognition technology misidentifies Black and Brown New Yorkers 10 to 100 times more than Caucasian New Yorkers, resulting in real harm. These error-prone, racially biased algorithms have devastating impacts for people of color. One false match can lead to a wrongful arrest, a lengthy detention, and even deadly police violence. Facial recognition technology should not be used in any capacity by New York City – any potential beneficial outcomes cannot justify the immense harm of expanding systems of mass surveillance that violate the right to privacy and threaten the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression.

I request the City of New York cease its use of facial recognition technology in order to protect the civil liberties of New Yorkers and end any further development of harmful police practices against Black and Brown New Yorkers. As we have seen, law enforcement agencies’ argument that this is necessary to stop crime is simply untrue: with photographs as evidence, they continue to solve crimes without these problematic algorithms. Specifically, in order to prevent the harms of facial recognition in policing and to safeguard the civil liberties of all New Yorkers, I urge that all New York City agencies:

    1. Cease use of all facial recognition technology.
    2. Permanently destroy data collected and used for facial recognition in the past.
    3. Publish data concerning each instance in which facial recognition technology was utilized.

Technology can be a powerful tool to provide equity, transparency, and progress, but is too often used to further systemic inequities within vulnerable communities. Facial recognition technology is not necessary and the harms far outweigh any positives.

I look forward to receiving your response within one week upon receipt of this letter. For further discussion, please contact First Deputy Public Advocate Nick E. Smith at

[email protected] and Director of Technology, Development, & Data John Robert Katt at [email protected]. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Jumaane D. Williams

Public Advocate for the City of New York

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