Facescapes A critical guide to facial recognition technologies.

Protesting (Courtney Miller)

Facial recognition technology has increasingly come under fire for its use by law enforcement during protests, particularly to identify protestors. However, protestors have begun to use facial concealment software to protect the identifies of protestors and others in photos spread around the Internet. They have also adopted use of facial recognition technology on law enforcement officers that took steps to conceal their own identities.

"Did You Protest Recently? Your Face Might be in a Database" Evan Selginer and Albert Fox CahnThis article emphasizes the implications of a world where facial recognition is the norm. In the United States, “at least one in four law enforcement agencies are able to use facial recognition technology.” However, without any real way to measure the full effects of its use as a surveillance tool, it is employed through drones, body-cams and other methods. Selginer and Cahn point out that police have the capability to add protestors to their databases and retaliate through selectively enforcing unrelated offenses. And the technology isn’t without flaws. Misidentification via facial recognition technology can and has happened, resulting in wrongful arrests and imprisonment.

Police utilized this technology during the 2016 protests following the death of Freddie Gray, even outwardly asking for videos or photos from people around the country that they could use to implicate people. Yet, law enforcement has been quiet about their use of the technology, and if or how they’ve been utilizing it.

The authors of this article call for a ban on facial recognition technology or, in a secondary step, to defund the police and to stop equipping them with this technology. However, while the future remains unclear, the safety and rights of protestors remain in jeopardy.

"Defending Black Lives Means Banning Facial Recognition" Tawana Petty In this article, Detroit-based Tawana Petty outlines how their lives are constantly surveilled by the same law enforcement that admitted that their software has been wrong up to 96 percent of the time as a result of a failure to distinguish Black people from one another. Because there is a precedent of Black people being mistakenly arrested based on faulty facial recognition technology, Petty clarifies a clear distinction between surveillance and safety.

Activists who have been protesting following the death of George Floyd have been demanding accountability and action on the parts of politicians. To accomplish this, however, Petty points out a double standard that many politicians have held - that to support the Black Lives Matter Movement does nothing if they support the funding of facial recognition and surveillance technology that puts Black lives in jeopardy. For these activists, real change can only be achieved through a ban on facial recognition technology and surveillance technology.

Protestor Anonymization Tool In response to an increasing number of arrests by police as a result of participation in recent Black Lives Matter protests, Stanford University has developed an open-source tool to combat law enforcement’s use of facial recognition technology on images circulating around the web, typically via social media. The goal of this tool is to anonymize the faces shown in these photos, however the creators do acknowledge the technical considerations that it can’t be used to entirely and effectively prevent recognition. Activists have been using tools like this one to prevent law enforcement from utilizing facial recognition on protestors.

Homepage Image Source: Gogi Kamushadze