Groups call facial recognition “too dangerous to exist,” say it must be abolished
Call To Ban The Use Of Facial Recognition
More than 20 civil and human rights organizations are expanding the fight against facial recognition and calling for a ban not only on government and law enforcement use of the technology, but also private and corporate use.
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The letter, which highlights recent abuses by corporations including Uber Eats, Amazon, and Apple, states that this technology threatens to suppress workers’ rights to organize, makes frontline workers susceptible to harassment and exploitation, puts personal biometric data in danger, and exacerbates existing biases.
The letter says that “In a world where private companies are already collecting our data, analyzing it, and using it to manipulate us to make a profit, we can’t afford to naively believe that private entities can be trusted with our biometric information. A technology that is inherently unjust, that has the potential to exponentially expand and automate discrimination and human rights violations, and that contributes to an ever growing and inescapable surveillance state is too dangerous to exist.”
While the call to ban law enforcement and government use of facial recognition has grown, and lawmakers have banned this use in many cities (and introduced a federal bill), Portland, OR is the only city to ban private use of facial recognition thus far. The organizations point to the Portland legislation as a template for other lawmakers to address the concerns with private and corporate use of the technology, and call on “local, state, and federal elected officials, as well as corporate leaders, to ban the use of facial recognition surveillance by private entities.”
Facial Recognition Is Inherently Discriminatory And Dangerous
“There is zero reason to believe that corporations can use this technology responsibly, especially at a time when these companies are already collecting our data and using it to manipulate us for profit,” said Caitlin Seeley George (she/her), Director of Campaigns and Operations at Fight for the Future. “This technology is inherently discriminatory and dangerous, no amount of regulation can address that. In order to protect people in workplaces, stores, restaurants, hospitals, transit and beyond, we must ban it.”
“Opt-in consent based regulatory frameworks will not address these harms,” added Evan Greer (she/her), Deputy Director at Fight for the Future. “If employees have to agree to being under constant facial recognition surveillance in order to have a job, that's not meaningful consent. If a patient has to agree to have their biometric information collected in order to receive care at a hospital, that's not really consent. Even more innocuous uses, like getting your face scanned to buy a burrito come with significant risks. The vast majority of people have no idea what the dangers of this technology are, and putting the onus on them fails to recognize power imbalances.”
“Facial recognition technology poses serious threats to personal freedom. Letting this tool of authoritarian control spread throughout the private sector has serious implications for worker organizing rights and heightens the risk of catastrophic biometric data breaches,” said Tracy Rosenberg, Advocacy Director at Oakland Privacy. “You can't replace your face, The troubled record of facial recognition technology in identifying darker skinned people and youth poses severe dangers for people too often criminalized. Facial recognition technology should be put back in the bottle. We don't need it and the dangers can't be regulated away.”
Prone To Racial Bias
"Facial recognition being prone to racial bias is not its only problem. If it were 100% accurate, it would be horrifying. If you're tracked wherever you go, your movements are laid bare for any company or government to exploit. Facial recognition deployments strip away your whole right to be let alone, in the name of more efficient advertising and policing. It's not worth it," said Alex Marthews, National Chair of Restore The Fourth.
“Corporate facial recognition fuels racist policing of Black, brown, and immigrant communities,” said Aly Panjwani, Policy & Advocacy Manager at the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project. “Facial recognition is biased, broken, and dangerous to the livelihood of working-class people. This technology exists to monitor, exploit, and incarcerate and must be banned,” added Aly Panjwani, Policy & Advocacy Manager at Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (S.T.O.P.)
“The companies that develop and sell facial recognition technology need to recognize and confront its inherent dangers – and they need to stop it now,” said Michael Connor, Executive Director of Open MIC, a nonprofit which has organized corporate shareholders to oppose the spread of facial recognition. Connor noted that a shareholder proposal at Amazon highlighting the human rights risks of the company’s facial recognition product won more than 40 percent of the independent shareholder vote at Amazon’s 2020 annual meeting, with yet another vote scheduled at this year’s upcoming 2021 annual meeting. “Investors increasingly understand the dangers of facial recognition,” Connor said. “Managements and boards of directors should take note.”
“Facial recognition is one of the most dangerous forms of surveillance ever invented. We know that its use — both by private and government entities — puts Black and brown communities already targeted by state violence at an even higher risk of arrest and incarceration. And we know that it’s already being used to target & silence protesters, deport migrant families, and control and surveil workers by their employers at Amazon warehouses and beyond. It's clear to us that the dangers this technology poses can't be "reformed" or "regulated" and we cannot trust tech companies — who are making enormous profits off of this tech — with the surveillance tools they already have. We must ban corporate & private use of facial recognition and fight for a surveillance-free future for all of us," added Laura Barrios, Campaign Manager, MPower Change.
The Harms Of Facial Recognition
"Corporate use of facial recognition will serve as an end-run around bans on government use of the technology and is a profound danger to the public in its own right. Face surveillance is too powerful for any entity to use because it enables widespread and surreptitious tracking of individuals on the back of cheap and omnipresent devices, cameras. The harms of facial recognition, both when it errs and when it is accurate, fall predominantly upon people of color, low-income individuals, and migrants. The use of this technology threatens to turn everyone into a suspect. FRT also permits unprecedented surveillance of workers, both on the job and off the clock. The only responsible step is for corporations to stop using facial recognition,” said Jeramie Scott, Senior Counsel and Director of the Surveillance Project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
The release of this letter comes after a handful of recent cases that highlight the growing problem of facial recognition being used by corporations: the hack of more than 150,000 Verkada security cameras that include facial recognition software and are used in offices, gyms, hospitals, jails, schools, police stations, and more; Disney’s announcement that it will be testing facial recognition at the entrance to the Magic Kingdom, and the incidences with Uber Eats, Apple, and Amazon previously mentioned.
Organizations signed onto the letter include American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Cryptoharlem, Daily Kos, Demand Progress, Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), Fight for the Future, Greenpeace USA, Massachusetts Jobs with Justice, MediaJustice, MPower Change, Muslim Justice League, Oakland Privacy, Open MIC (Open Media & Information Companies Initiative), Presente, Privacy PDX, RAICES, Restore the Fourth, RootsAction.org, Secure Justice, S.T.O.P. (Surveillance Technology Oversight Project), and United We Dream.
Open Letter: banning government use of facial recognition surveillance is not enough, we must ban corporate and private use as well
Wired has reported that Uber Eats drivers in the UK are being fired because of the company’s faulty facial identification software, which requires drivers to submit selfies to confirm their identity. When the technology isn’t able to match photos of the drivers with their accounts, drivers get booted off the system and are unable to work, and thus unable to pay their bills. This isn’t the first time this has happened—in 2019 a Black Uber driver in the U.S. sued the company for its discriminatory facial recognition.
Cases like this are becoming increasingly prevalent: Amazon delivery drivers now have to agree to AI surveillance, including facial identification, or else lose their job, and Apple recently banned facial recognition on employees visiting manufacturing sites, but failed to apply this ban to also protect factory workers. This level of surveillance creates many problems, including suppressing worker efforts to organize and engage in collective action. In each of these cases frontline and marginalized workers are being targeted and their safety and rights are being undermined in favor of corporate surveillance, control, and power.
These cases clearly show how private use of facial recognition by corporations, institutions and even individuals poses just as much of a threat to marginalized communities as government use. Corporations are already using facial recognition on workers in hiring, to replace traditional timecards, and to monitor workers’ movements and “productivity”—all of which particularly harm frontline workers and make them susceptible to harassment, exploitation, and put their personal information at risk.
Using biometric surveillance technology in retail stores, hospitals, and healthcare settings, at concerts and sporting events, or in restaurants and bars will exacerbate existing discrimination. In the same way that Black and brown communities are targeted by police, companies can target certain communities with their facial recognition surveillance. A store could use a publicly available mugshot database to ban everyone with a criminal record from the store, which would disproportionately harm Black and brown people who are over-policed and over-represented in these databases. The impact of this would be compounded by the fact that facial recognition is notoriously bad at correctly identifying Black and brown faces. Overall this feeds a system of mass criminalization, where Black and brown people are treated as guilty everywhere they go.
Biometric surveillance is more like lead paint or nuclear weapons than firearms or alcohol. The severity and scale of harm that facial recognition technology can cause requires more than a regulatory framework. The vast majority of uses of this technology, whether by governments, private individuals, or institutions, should be banned. Facial recognition surveillance is inherently discriminatory. It cannot be reformed or regulated; it should be abolished.
In 2020, Portland, OR, passed a groundbreaking ban on private use of facial recognition, which smartly bans use in places of public accommodation as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act. We believe this ordinance should be used as a template for more city, state, and federal legislation that bans private and corporate use of facial recognition surveillance.
In a world where private companies are already collecting our data, analyzing it, and using it to manipulate us to make a profit, we can’t afford to naively believe that private entities can be trusted with our biometric information. A technology that is inherently unjust, that has the potential to exponentially expand and automate discrimination and human rights violations, and that contributes to an ever growing and inescapable surveillance state is too dangerous to exist.
We call on all local, state, and federal elected officials, as well as corporate leaders, to ban the use of facial recognition surveillance by private entities. The dangers of facial recognition far outweigh any potential benefits, which is why banning both government and private use of facial recognition is the only way to keep everyone safe.
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)
Fight for the Future
Massachusetts Jobs with Justice
Muslim Justice League
Open MIC (Open Media & Information Companies Initiative)
Restore the Fourth
S.T.O.P. (Surveillance Technology Oversight Project)
United We Dream