LAST MAY, San Francisco became the first city in the world to ban the use of face surveillance technology. Days later, Somerville, Massachusetts, became the first city on the East Coast to do the same. Now—thanks to a movement led by dozens of civil rights organizations nationwide—municipalities and states across the country are debating the government’s use of a technology that poses unprecedented threats to our civil rights and civil liberties.
Face recognition systems use computer algorithms paired with databases to analyze and classify images of human faces in order to identify or track people. The technology is currently entirely unregulated in the U.S., but police departments and other government agencies are nonetheless using it—too often in secret. But it’s not like what you’ve seen on cop shows like CSI; face recognition doesn’t always work. And the inaccuracies are particularly damaging for certain groups of people, notably for black women and for trans and nonbinary people.
Tre’Andre Valentine is the executive director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition. This piece was adapted from a version published inRainbow Times (New England) andThe Advocate (on-line).