[DISCLAIMER: I am employed in the biometric industry. The views expressed in this post are my own, and are not necessarily the views of any present or previous employer, or of any organization with which I am presently or previously associated.]
For those who completely skipped over the disclaimer because they’re boring, I am employed in the biometric industry, and have been so employed for over two decades. There have been a number of changes in this industry over the years, both from a procedural standpoint (witness the varied effects of the 2009 NAS report) and a technological standpoint.
One of the more recent contributions to the discussion is a report from Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy & Technology. Obviously the report has its own hashtag – #perpetuallineup to be precise.
It should be noted that the report is not a 100% complete slam on facial recognition technology itself.
The benefits of face recognition are real. It has been used to catch violent criminals and fugitives. The law enforcement officers who use the technology are men and women of good faith. They do not want to invade our privacy or create a police state. They are simply using every tool available to protect the people that they are sworn to serve. Police use of face recognition is inevitable. This report does not aim to stop it.
Rather, this report offers a framework to reason through the very real risks that face recognition creates.
Among other topics, the report touches upon privacy issues. For example:
If deployed pervasively on surveillance video or police-worn body cameras, real-time face recognition will redefine the nature of public spaces. At the moment, it is also inaccurate. Communities should carefully weigh whether to allow real-time face recognition. If they do, it should be used as a last resort to intervene in only life-threatening emergencies. Orders allowing it should require probable cause, specify where continuous scanning will occur, and cap the length of time it may be used.
Because, of course, the public is demanding that the police NOT implement body-worn cameras, or use them pervasively.
Whoops, I seem to have run across another article.
Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman is right that public safety could have been at risk had the officers paused to turn on their body cameras; Tuesday’s incident unfolded rapidly. But we wonder about the wisdom of her suggestion that there could be a technological fix in which body cameras automatically turn on when an officer pulls his or her gun. Police conduct isn’t only an issue when officers shoot people. When a patrol officer is on duty, his or her body camera should be on by default. If this means SDPD has to buy more expensive batteries that last longer, so be it.
So on the one hand, you have people declaring that body cameras are wonderful things that should always be turned on, and on the other hand you have people declaring the body cameras infringe on civil liberties and should only be turned on in certain circumstances.
I’ve been thinking about this contradiction for years. In fact, I wrote about it in this very blog in December 2014.
However, [Sterling] Crispin’s project doesn’t really touch on a basic conflict in our thinking about surveillance.
In a reactive manner, Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri has resulted in many calls for police to always wear video recording equipment, so that all encounters between police and civilians are recorded….Many are elated at the fact that the actions of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were captured by a number of cameras in Boston, Massachusetts.
At the same time, some of the same people who are demanding that the police record things are also demanding that the police NOT record things. Crispin is disturbed by the fact that the FBI’s Next Generation Identification system can possibly be used on civilians. Many are disturbed by all of those video cameras out there – stationary ones installed by governments and private businesses, and mobile ones on Google Glass and on our own telephones.
You can’t simultaneously demand that things be recorded, and that things not be recorded.
In fact, the all bodycam all the time movement has already resulted in one lawsuit threat:
At issue is body cam video the [Spokane Police] department posted to its Facebook page Wednesday that showed how [Sergeant Eric] Kannberg was dealing with one drunken individual when another person approached him and intervened. That video subsequently went viral on Facebook, racking up tens of thousands of views in the first 24 hours.
The man who contacted Kannberg, who was arrested on a third-degree assault charge, the arrest captured on video, says the police department shouldn’t have posted the video. The man’s attorney said the department should not have posted the video before the man who was arrested had his day in court.
The police department, however, says the video they posted wasn’t private, and they did it to show the patience Kannberg displayed in trying to peacefully resolve the situation.
But now let’s lighten up, because the Sterling Crispin post was partially inspired by a futuristic fiction story that I had written in September 2014. My fiction dealt with the ramifications of unintended consequences. I’ll give you an example – before I was born, people thought that television would become the great educator, bringing audiovisual education into our own homes. By the time I was born, TV was being called a vast wasteland.
In my fiction story, I postulated that unintended consequences may also affect the movement to expose bodycam footage.
While police webcams became more popular way back in 2014 after the Ferguson incident and the Ray Rice case, some people still felt that the police were hiding something. As the years went on, more and more police departments adopted transparency rules, and by the time that Kim and Steve were enjoying their bacon-infused lunch, several police departments were not only equipping every police officer and police car with a webcam, but were also providing real-time public access to these feeds. The goal in providing these feeds was to not only provide complete transparency into police operations, but also to educate the public on the dangers that police officers faced every day as they patrolled their communities.
As with any technological advance, however, the lofty goals of the originators were soon replaced by other goals. The streams themselves became revenue sources for the police agencies, as anyone who accessed the feeds had to sit through commercials for bail bond companies, defense attorneys, and Progressive Insurance. And the audience, rather than consisting of civil libertarians monitoring police activity, ended up as a bunch of teens watching voyeuristically.
What would Jim Conley say?