The Fight to Ban Facial Recognition Technology

FRI, JUL 31, 2020 (00:00)

In light of the recent wave of Black Lives Matter protests, there are distressing concerns that facial recognition software is being used to target and catalogue people engaging in protected speech and assembly. Given the chilling effect it poses on civil liberties and its propensity for error — from misidentifying to wrongfully convicting individuals — major cities like Boston and San Francisco have banned its use by law enforcement. The discussion will navigate how community organizers are fighting back against the unprecedented use of surveillance tools that disproportionately exhibit racial and gender bias and how the movement for racial justice means banning facial recognition.

Drawing on the remarkable work of Ben Ewen-Campen, Chris Gilliard and Emily Dreyfuss, series host Joan Donovan asks: what is the potential human cost of widespread facial recognition technology? What prompted Amazon’s moratorium on selling its controversial Rekognition platform to law enforcement and what are the consequences? Have the successful bans in Boston and San Francisco sparked enough momentum for a nationwide ban? And crucially, is facial recognition so widespread now that it’s even possible to effectively ban it?

Photo: “Facial Recognition Art Mural,” Hollywood CA by Yowhathappenedtopeace/Flickr

+ BIO: Ben Ewen-Campen

Ben Ewen-Campen is a City Councilor in Somerville, MA and a biologist at Harvard Medical School. As a City Councillor, Ben gained a groundswell of support campaigning on a platform rooted in creating affordable living options in Somerville, pledging to offset taxes and create jobs, to preserve green space, and to improve infrastructure. In June 2019, Ben led the campaign against facial recognition technology in Somerville, becoming the first East Coast city to ban its use.

+ BIO: Emily Dreyfuss

Emily Dreyfuss is the Senior Editor at The Technology and Social Change Research Project at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. She is the former editorial director of Protocol. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, covering the impact of technology on society, and before that she was a senior editor at Wired and the senior programming manager at CNET. As the 2017 Harvard Nieman-Berkman Klein fellow, Emily studied how the internet changes the historical record. Her work has appeared in Pop-Up Magazine, The New York Times, The Atlantic, and The Week. She lives in San Francisco.

+ BIO: Chris Gilliard

Chris Gilliard is a Professor of English at Macomb Community College. His scholarship concentrates on privacy, institutional tech policy, digital redlining, and the re-inventions of discriminatory practices through data mining and algorithmic decision-making, especially as these apply to college students. He is currently developing a project that looks at how popular misunderstandings of mathematical concepts create the illusions of fairness and objectivity in student analytics, predictive policing, and hiring practices.

Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy
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