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Amnesty International denounce NYPD’s use of “invasive” facial recognition technology

Human Rights Group, Amnesty International, has called for New York City to ban police use of “invasive” facial recognition, warning of a potential escalation of discriminatory practices should the software be integrated further.

The group’s calls for a reduction in the use of mass surveillance by New York police marks the start of their Ban the Scan campaign, which aims to subject the use of facial recognition to greater scrutiny.

Concerns have been raised specifically with regard to its amplification of racist policing; facial recognition technology has frequently displayed racial bias, often returning matches that are “disproportionately of people of colour”.

Albert Fox Cahn, Surveillance Technology Oversight Project Executive Director, at the Urban Justice Centre described facial recognition as “biased, broken, and antithetical to democracy”, stating that:

“the NYPD has used facial recognition to track tens of thousands of New Yorkers, putting New Yorkers of colour at risk of false arrest and police violence.”

There have also been questions raised as to the software’s potential to contravene the right to protest, with many arguing that its “ubiquitous” and “unregulated” nature dissuades participation.

Facial recognition has already come under intense scrutiny in China’s Xinjiang region. Often used to persecute the Uyghur population, the provision of “ethnic minority recognition” as a service by China’s top tech companies is a further indication of the software’s capacity to infringe on the rights of marginalised groups.

Matt Mahmoudi, AI and Human Rights Researcher at Amnesty International, raised concerns with regard to the weaponisation of facial recognition, stating that:

“From New Delhi to New York, this invasive technology turns our identities against us and undermines human rights. ”

The technology has already been deemed discordant with the sufficient employment of human rights. In August 2020, Britain’s Court of Appeal found that police use of facial recognition technology violated human rights and data protection laws, ruling that “public confidence, fairness and transparency are vitally important”.

The propensity of facial recognition to operate in a discriminatory manner, and its capacity to infringe on personal freedoms and privacy, must be addressed. Governments globally must ensure that legislation is in place to ensure that this technology does not become an agent of persecution. An evolving digital world must result in evolving digital policy, if human rights are to be adequately protected.

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