Private retailer use of facial recognition technology has been in the news lately, with a story out of Detroit of a young Black girl being ejected from a private business due to a FRT misidentification. Lamya Robinson was kicked out of a roller skating rink after facial recognition technology that the business was using “identified” her as having been part of a fight there before. The only problem: Robinson had never actually been to that skating rink before. Her mother is quoted as saying, “To me, it’s basically racial profiling.” And she’s right: FRT is the same old racial profiling, with a 21st century, high-tech veneer of objectivity.
Tech world biases are baked into the technology itself, technology that is often trained on databases that are primarily filled with white faces. This means that FRT misidentifies Black and brown faces more often than white faces. It’s a fallacy to believe that surveillance such as this guarantees safety. It’s often a question of safety for whom? FRT misidentifications—whether public or private—can lead to dangerous contact between marginalized communities and law enforcement. There’s been multiple cases of black men being wrongfully imprisoned over false FRT identifications. That’s not actually safety, that’s mass criminalization and it harms communities.
Facial recognition technology is inaccurate and unsafe for large portions of our population including, women, LGBTQ people, and people of color. Retailers who use FRT are knowingly choosing to create environments that are not just unwelcoming but also unsafe for marginalized communities. And often times, shoppers have no idea what they’re walking into. Even worse, shoppers may have no choice—consider people who live in food deserts or other communities without many choices of where one can shop. The proliferation of FRT in retail settings will just contribute to mass criminalization of marginalized communities and our already racist policing system. We need to draw a line in the sand here and now: it’s simply not ok for retailers to use facial recognition technology. Sign the petition and shame the naughty list of retailers: here.
Today, Senator Ron Wyden introduced the Fourth Amendment Is Not For Sale Act—a bill that would close a current backdoor to the fourth amendment. The fourth amendment protects you against warrantless search and seizure, but with current practices, federal agencies and law enforcement are able to buy your data directly from shady data brokers without your knowledge or a warrant. This practice is currently 100% legal. With Wyden’s bill we can close this loophole— the government should not be able to buy their way around your civil liberties.
Data brokers mine data from your phone and online presence, often via apps you use, and sell that information off to the highest bidder. As is often the case, these constitutionally questionable practices tend to target marginalized populations first—with agencies like ICE and CBP using location data from apps to target undocumented immigrants. In a horrifying example of how surveillance is often aimed at historically-marginalized groups, apps marketed towards Muslims have been known to collaborate with federal agencies—selling location data mined by Predicio to federal agencies like ICE and CBP.
This bill would also effectively stop agencies from purchasing data from the controversial law enforcement contractor Clearview AI. Clearview AI has been known to scrape data from social media for its facial recognition databases, and then pass that information on to law enforcement (for a price, obviously)—again, all without law enforcement ever needing a warrant.
While agencies like ICE and DHS will say that this practice is perfectly legal and not a violation of the fourth amendment, they are still collecting American’s private information without a warrant—something which the fourth amendment specifically protects against. Just because an agency is going through a private company does not mean those fourth amendment protections do not apply.
Wyden’s bill would require law enforcement agencies procure a warrant before purchasing data from data brokers, much the same way they’re required to procure a warrant before conducting physical searches or accessing your email. Congress has often been slow to respond to our ever-evolving digital landscape, but it’s time for a change.
Sign our petition urging congress to support The 4th Amendment is Not For Sale Act: https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/tell-congress-pass-the-4th-amendment-is-not-for-sale-act.