When I was
a child, I used to dream of growing up to live in a magical world where my
every move would be monitored by cameras tracking my identity, behaviour, and
kidding. But that reality is exactly where we are headed.
the age of total surveillance and the extinction of the concept of privacy -
the latest efforts by the global politico-corporate elite to render existence
as oppressive as possible before the planet combusts in a climate catastrophe.
of the surveillance industry is facial recognition technology, which has been
making waves as of late with headlines like The FBI Has Access to Over 640
Million Photos of Us Through Its Facial Recognition Database and Facial
recognition smart glasses could make public surveillance discreet and
there are plenty of dedicated cheerleaders as well. In June, the New York Times
ran an op-ed titled How Facial Recognition Makes You Safer, in which New York
police commissioner James O'Neill swears on behalf of the technology's
"worth as a crime-fighting resource".
But how can
anyone be made safer by something that is so often frighteningly inaccurate?
for example, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conducted a test of
Rekognition, Amazon's facial recognition software, which compared images of all
the members of the US Congress with a database of mugshots.
results, according to Rekognition: 28 US Congresspeople were identified as
criminals. And what do you know: the false matches pertained disproportionately
to people of colour.
the complications that might arise when you have such technology in the hands
of US law enforcement officials who have already proven themselves predisposed
to shooting black people for no reason.
to marketing its product to officials from US Immigration and Customs
Enforcement (ICE) and other notoriously abusive entities, Amazon has also
pushed for Rekognition's use in police body cameras - which would presumably
only increase the chances of pre-emptive misidentification by trigger-happy
forces of law and order.
pushback from Amazon employees and others alarmed by the implications of
surveillance collaboration with the state, the company remains committed. A
recent Vox article quotes Amazon Web Services CEO Andy Jassy as arguing that
"just because tech could be misused doesn't mean we should ban it and
condemn it" since other things like email and knives can also be misused:
"You could use a knife in a surreptitious way."
enough, but knives at least serve a wide variety of useful purposes for the
average human, as opposed to simply sustaining a dystopian landscape built for
the enrichment of a tyrannical elite minority.
United Kingdom, the South Wales Police and London's Metropolitan Police have
reportedly spent millions of pounds on trials of facial recognition technology.
Never mind a certain pesky investigation revealing that over 90 percent of
automated facial recognition matches were incorrect.
China, facial recognition technology has provided all sorts of opportunities
for the evisceration of human rights and suppression of dissent.
But back to
the United States, where the largely unregulated proliferation of facial
recognition technology through airports across the country constitutes the
attempted normalisation of this new, creepy-as-hell way of life - all, of
course, in the name of security, efficiency, and progress. But while
"security" is an ever-handy excuse for the obliteration of civil
liberties, there's no indication here, either, that the technology has made
travellers any safer.
might say, what's the matter with facial recognition technology if you've done
nothing wrong and have nothing to hide? Beyond the obvious issue of
technological inaccuracy and bias - thanks to which people of colour and women
are more likely to be misidentified - surveillance is itself an inherently
surveilled subjects, finding themselves in a position in which they must
continually prove their innocence, will often self-censor and relinquish their
own freedoms - like, say, the freedom to rebel against aspiring police states
that want to convert everyone into automatons.
the facial recognition-fuelled drive for "identity-based security" -
critiqued at length by ACLU Senior Policy Analyst Jay Stanley - raises the
following question: What does human identity even mean any more in an age in
which individuals are converted into sets of data and targets for
To be sure,
for demographics that have already enjoyed extensive experience with
surveillance - Muslims in the US, for example - the future will probably be
even less fun.
Raja, co-director of the Washington-based Justice for Muslims Collective,
observes that the "rise of surveillance capitalism" has produced an
"industry that is worth over 200 billion" dollars, with harmful
repercussions for minority communities. Indeed, capitalism's great talent has
been to unleash pernicious technologies on the world that actively destroy
individual, communal, and global wellbeing while filling the pockets of a
select number of important people.
industry comes to mind, which has helped to eradicate countless lives from Iraq
to Yemen and beyond. And as Raja stresses, it is important to remember in the
US context that "what happens abroad matters and vice-versa". Case in
point: "Technology is often tested on the bodies of Black and Brown
people, perfected and then applied locally."
As it turns
out, the US is also one of a group of countries opposing a UN-proposed ban on
the development of so-called “killer robots”: lethal autonomous weapons systems
that use artificial intelligence - think facial recognition-equipped swarms of
drones. The technology is already available, which may mean it's only a matter
of time before it's tested, perfected, and applied.
is some pushback from the public - the city of San Francisco, for example, has
banned the use of facial recognition by police and other agencies - a lot more
effort is needed to put a stop to the sci-fi horror film playing out before our
Fernandez is a contributing editor at Jacobin Magazine.