The supercomputer that rules the galaxy in “Alphaville” and the ubiquitous television cameras that never stop watching in “1984” were once considered science-fiction, but as reports highlight controversies involving law enforcement’s use of facial recognition technology, it is now cold, hard fact. Is this the end of privacy? If it is, the state Legislature can do something about it.
State Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-27, on Monday introduced a bill that would ban all law enforcement agencies or officers from acquiring, accessing or installing biometric surveillance technology to be used for their jobs, although it would allow for ongoing use of existing, more conventional biometric practices such as fingerprints.
Hoylman even sounds like the science-fiction thriller heroes: “In the wrong hands, this technology presents a chilling threat to our privacy and civil liberties, especially when evidence shows this technology is less accurate when used on people of color, and transgender, non-binary and non-conforming people.”
Facial recognition technology is far from bulletproof, according to research. A 2018 study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab found the top three facial recognition tools were incorrect up to 35% of the time when identifying dark-skinned women. When identifying white men, on the other hand, all three companies had error rates below 1%.
The widespread use of facial recognition technology by numerous companies is disconcerting, especially to minority communities and activists, since these communities are disproportionately monitored by law enforcement — another Big Brother angle. More efficient technology would increase the disparity, advocates worry.
In our opinion, facial recognition technology and other forms of biometric surveillance are inaccurate, intrusive, vulnerable to abuses and a direct threat to the privacy and civil liberties of all New Yorkers. The state Legislature has the power to stop it.