Fight for the Future


Fight for the Future welcomes legislation to ban facial recognition surveillance in public housing

Posted 11:18 EDT on July 23, 2019
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 23, 2019
Contact: Evan Greer, press@fightforthefuture.org, 508-368-3026 

UPDATE: Politico reports that this bill has now been introduced as of Thursday, July 25. 

CNET is reporting that Reps Yvette Clark (D-NY), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) are planning to introduce a bill this week that would ban the use of facial recognition and other biometric surveillance technology in public housing units that receive federal funding from HUD.

Fight for the Future, a leading digital rights group that has called for a complete Federal ban on government use of facial recognition surveillance, welcomes this legislation, reportedly titled the “No Biometric Barriers to Housing Act.” 

“Facial recognition surveillance should be banned everywhere, but keeping it out of public housing is an excellent start,” said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future (pronouns: she/her), “This type of invasive surveillance technology is often tested on, and disproportionately used to target poor people and people of color. If public housing units become a panopticon of automated face scanning and monitoring, it will mean more people in prison, more police abuse, and more families torn apart. Surveillance of poor communities isn’t about safety, it’s about social control. Everyone deserves liberty and privacy in their own homes –– no one should have to choose between homelessness and losing their basic rights.”

The new bill comes on the heels of growing backlash to facial recognition surveillance that has been spreading across the country. Last week Fight for the Future released an interactive map showing where in the US facial recognition surveillance is being used, and also where there are local and state efforts to ban it. San Francisco, Somerville, MA, and Oakland, CA, recently became the first cities in the country to ban the technology. Berkeley is also considering a ban, and bills to halt current use of the tech are moving in the Massachusetts and Michigan legislatures. In Congress, there is growing bipartisan agreement to address the issue, but it could easily stall under pressure from law enforcement and big tech.

Fight for the Future opposes attempts by the tech industry and law enforcement to pressure Congress to pass an industry-friendly “regulatory framework” for facial recognition that would allow this dangerous technology to spread quickly with minimal restrictions intended to assuage public opposition. But we support narrower efforts to ban or restrict specifically egregious uses of this surveillance. For more on our position, read our op-ed in Buzzfeed News: “Don’t regulate facial recognition. Ban it.”

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NEW: Fight for the Future launches interactive facial recognition map as part of nationwide campaign for local and state level bans

Posted 12:23 EDT on July 18, 2019

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 18, 2019
Contact: Evan Greer, 978-852-6457, press@fightforthefuture.org

Fight for the Future just launched a first-of-its-kind interactive map that tracks where in the U.S. facial recognition technology is being used and where it is being resisted, and a tool-kit for local activists who want to help kickstart a ban in their city or state.

This is a major new phase of our BanFacialRecognition.com campaign: a nationwide push to kickstart more local- and state-level efforts to ban facial recognition surveillance.

The map includes known locations where:

  • Scans of driver’s license photos and mug shots by law enforcement are reported to be taking place
  • Facial recognition has begun to invade stores, stadiums, and airports
  • Amazon Ring has formed surveillance partnerships with local police (first time this list has been published)
  • Pioneering city bans on facial recognition have been or may soon be passed
  • Statewide moratoriums on facial recognition are being considered
  • Surveillance ordinances that govern procurement processes have been passed
  • US senators and representatives have formally issued oversight letters expressing concern over unethical uses of surveillance technology

It’s nearly impossible to create an exhaustive list given the secrecy surrounding the use of facial recognition surveillance, but we’ve compiled a robust list of use cases that have been publicly reported. We’ll be crowdsourcing this information and updating the map as new information surfaces.

Evan Greer (she/her), Digital Rights Campaign Director at Fight for the Future, sees these local actions—which enjoy overwhelming popular support—as part of a growing movement. The campaign calling for a ban on facial recognition echoes academics who have studied facial recognition technology and likens it to the proliferation of nuclear or biological weapons. “Imagine if we could go back in time and prevent governments around the world from ever building nuclear or biological weapons. That’s the moment in history we’re in right now with facial recognition.”

We are on the verge of an unprecedented increase in state and private spying that will be built in plain sight. People are alarmed, and this map and the toolkit arms people everywhere with the resources to both fight back and learn from how others are doing it. It’s going to take all of us to rid this country of this most dangerous technology. 

“We’re seeing growing momentum across the country of people pushing back against this dangerous technology, and we wanted to provide a useful resource to put all this information together.” said Evan Greer (she/her), a campaign director at Fight for the Future. San Francisco,Somerville, MA, and Oakland, CA, recently became the first cities in the country to ban the technology. Berkeley is also considering a ban, and bills to halt current use of the tech are before the Massachusetts and Michigan legislatures. In Congress, there is growing bipartisan agreement to address the issue, but it could easily stall under pressure from law enforcement and big tech.

This is a bipartisan issue. At a congressional hearing in June, Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Republican Jim Jordan agreed that the technology poses a clear threat. Arguing that the technology will turn George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 into a disturbing reality, Jordan said, “Doesn’t matter what side of the political spectrum you’re on, this should concern us all.”

The Washington Post reported last week that the FBI and ICE have secretly accessed millions of American’s driver’s license photos as part of a nationwide facial recognition dragnet, turning DMV databases “into the bedrock of an unprecedented surveillance infrastructure.” 

Last month, Axon, one of the largest suppliers of police body cameras in America, announced it would not equip its products with facial recognition, saying it could not “ethically justify” doing so. Prior to the company’s decision, several studies uncovered extensive inaccuracies in the technology and embedded biases against women and people of color.

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Berkeley Claims To Be A Progressive City But It’s Not Clear If They’ll Ban Facial Recognition.

Posted 12:11 EDT on July 16, 2019

As momentum to ban facial recognition technology in the Bay Area grows, police influence might get in the way of progress. Fight for the Future plans to crowdfund a billboard exposing any council members who block the proposal.

City Council Members in Oakland will vote tonight on an ordinance ordinance to ban the city from buying and using the technology, while . Tomorrow, the Public Safety Committee of the Berkeley City Council will meet (Wednesday, July 17 at 12pm at City Hall) to finalize their own ordinance that would prohibit the city from using facial recognition technology or data obtained from its use. 

While the proposed ban in Oakland is expected to pass following its 4-0 clearance of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee last month, local law enforcement hopes to saddle Berkeley’s ban with exceptions that would render it meaningless.

If the Berkeley ban is stalled, Fight for the Future will launch a crowdfunded billboard in downtown Berkeley to highlight the Council Members who prevent this ban from happening. The group has previously crowdfunded billboards targeting lawmakers across the country over issues like net neutrality and NSA surveillance. 

Fight for the Future is calling on the people of Berkeley to attend tomorrow’s Committee meeting and voice their support for the ban, and for the Committee to send the Ordinance ordinance to the full Council without any watered down amendments. 

“The proposal on the table in Berkeley is clear, direct, and effective,” said Evan Greer, Deputy Director at Fight for the Future, (pronouns: she/her). “It’s a critical line of defense against invasive surveillance. But police are pushing carve-outs for all different kinds of - you guessed it - invasive surveillance. They’re trying to make it a self-negating law so they can monitor and control the population with impunity.”

“The people of Berkeley know better,” she added. “They support a ban, and they won’t allow the Council to pass an empty shell of a law that doesn’t do what it’s intended to do. You don’t let Big Brother negotiate how much oppressive tech he gets. The answer is: he gets none.” Citing the Council’s responsibility to give Berkeley an ordinance that makes sense, Greer promised a billboard featuring the faces of dissenting council members in the event of a failed or diluted law.

Echoing Greer, Brian Hofer, Executive Director of Secure Justice and Chair of Oakland’s Privacy Advisory Commission, said, “If we’re going to call ourselves the home of the resistance, then East Bay electeds need to start voting like it.”

Earlier this year, San Francisco led the fight against facial recognition when it passed a citywide ban by a 10-1 margin. More recently, the City Council of Somerville, MA voted unanimously to ban all public uses of the technology. 

As Oakland’s vote approaches, City Council President Rebecca Kaplan, an honors graduate of MIT, said, “I welcome emerging technologies that improve our lives and facilitate city governance, but when multiple studies show a technology is flawed, biased, and is having unprecedented, chilling effects to our freedom of speech and religion, we have to take a stand. It is important to build trust and good relationships between community and police and to remedy racial bias, however this flawed technology could make those problems worse. The right to privacy and the right to equal protection are fundamental and we cannot surrender them.” 

“Face surveillance technology is the most radical tool developed in my lifetime, and it will permanently and negatively alter the balance between the government and the governed,” Hofer observed. “Thankfully city council members like Oakland’s Rebecca Kaplan and Berkeley’s Kate Harrison get it.”

Council Member Kate Harrison, sponsor of the proposal in Berkeley, worries that facial recognition could be used to track people “en masse” and weaponized “against [whole] groups.” Elsewhere in the country, facial recognition bans enjoy wide popular support, and recently even garnered rare bipartisan agreement in Congress.

However, according to Greer and Fight for the Future, there is a very real risk that the police lobby will make a national embarrassment of Berkeley. “Berkeley is considered progressive,” she said. “It will want to be on the right side of history with this. It can’t afford not to be.”

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It’s Time For Oakland To Join the List of Cities Banning Facial Recognition (And Berkeley, too).

Posted 16:13 EDT on July 15, 2019

The Oakland City Council will vote tomorrow (Tuesday July 16 during the City Council meeting at 5.30pm PST) on an ordinance to ban the purchase or use of facial recognition technology by public agencies. The vote comes in the wake of several national news stories exposing the scope of the surveillance regime that such technology has already enabled. The motion, sponsored by Councilwoman and Council President Rebecca Kaplan, passed through Oakland’s Public Safety Committee with a 4-0 vote but we understand it will meet some opposition on the City Council tomorrow evening. There is some resistance locally from local law enforcement who seek post-hoc facial recognition.

Fight for the Future is calling on the people of Oakland to attend this City Council meeting and voice their support for the ban, and for the Council to pass this motion without any watered down amendments. 

Tomorrow’s vote in Oakland comes just one day before a a Public Safety Committee special hearing in Berkeley to discuss a ban on facial recognition. This takes place at 12 noon.

Cities like San Francisco and Somerville recently took decisive action to ban the technology and protect their residents from the invasive practices it makes possible. And statewide moratoriums are currently before the legislatures in California (only for police body cams), Massachusetts, and Michigan.

Evan Greer (she/her), Digital Rights Campaign Director at Fight for the Future, sees these local actions - which enjoy overwhelming popular support - as part of a growing movement. 

“People are smart,” she said. “As much as big tech companies sell facial recognition as convenient and safe, people have quickly realized that it makes us less safe, not more safe. This type of surveillance leads to social control on a previously impossible scale, exacerbating existing forms of discrimination in our society. This is a watershed moment in human history, and people from across the political spectrum are coming out of the woodwork and mobilizing to stop 1984 from becoming a reality.” .”

Fight for the Future launched a campaign last week for a federal ban, filling a void in leadership on an urgent issue that Greer - echoing academics who have studied facial recognition technology - likens to nuclear proliferation. “Imagine if we could go back in time and prevent governments around the world from ever building nuclear or biological weapons. That’s the moment in history we’re in right now with facial recognition.”

Greer points out that it is a bipartisan issue. At a congressional hearing in June, Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Republican Jim Jordan agreed that the technology poses a clear threat. Arguing that the technology will turn George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 into a disturbing reality, Jordan said, “Doesn’t matter what side of the political spectrum you’re on, this should concern us all.”

The Washington Post reported last week that the FBI and ICE have secretly accessed millions of American’s driver’s license photos as part of a nationwide facial recognition dragnet, turning DMV databases “into the bedrock of an unprecedented surveillance infrastructure.” 

Last month, Axon, one of the largest suppliers of police body cameras in America, announced it would not equip its products with facial recognition, saying it could not “ethically justify” doing so. Prior to the company’s decision, several studies uncovered extensive inaccuracies in the technology and embedded biases against women and people of color.

“This technology will be catastrophic for the most vulnerable in our society,” Greer said. “But it will subject everyone else to the watchful eye and oppressive whims of the state as never before.” Greer cited the upcoming vote in Oakland, and the ban ordinance under review in Berkeley, as signs of progress in California that the rest of the nation should follow.

Please contact William Fitzgerald william@theworkeragency.com if you’d like to speak with Evan Greer from Fight for the Future, or Brian Hofer from Secure Justice, who’s been working on this in Oakland and Berkeley for years now. 

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Detroit Police Commissioner ARRESTED for questioning city’s use of facial recognition

Posted 14:24 EDT on July 12, 2019

Last night, a police commissioner in Detroit was arrested for questioning the city’s use of facial recognition at a public hearing.

Commissioner Willie Burton, who is black, was surrounded by police officers and handcuffed from his place at the head of the meeting on Thursday night, shouting “get your hands off me!” as he was taken out of the room with hands behind his back and put into a police car. He was questioning the police department’s use of facial recognition known to be biased against people of color, in a city with a high proportion of black residents.

It’s part of a renewed debate this week on facial recognition technology in Detroit, where the New York Times reported on activists criticizing the city’s use of the tech given its problems: The data used is pulled from Michigan’s 50 million drivers licenses, personal information that is accessed without a warrant and with no consent. The program also allows for police officers to use facial recognition not just on criminal suspects, but on anyone with a “reasonable suspicion” they might assist in solving a crime.

The controversy has so far resulted in a call at the state level to ban facial recognition throughout Michigan for five years. It would be the first state in the country to do so.

It also follows growing momentum nationwide, where different cities and states have already put bans in place or are considering banning the technology. San Francisco and Somerville, Massachusetts, were the first two cities in the country to ban the tech, but Oakland, Berkeley are considering bans, and Massachusetts and California are considering severely limiting facial recognition’s use.

Congress members from both parties have called the technology dangerous — both Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jim Jordan are against it — and even Axon Corporation, the maker of tasers and body cameras, says it will not commercialize it because it cannot ensure its ethical use.

Fight for the Future this week launched a campaign calling for a federal ban on facial recognition. If we rely on piecemeal regulations at the city and state level, this technology will proliferate beyond our control.

For more information contact press@fightforthefuture.org 

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