Ban the Scan – Is Facial Recognition a Threat to Civil Liberties?


  • The deployment of facial recognition technology is considered a threat to privacy.
  • People of color and marginalized communities face higher risks of false positives.
  • The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (S.T.O.P.) are critical advocates of non deployment of facial recognition.

There are various voices around the globe against the deployment of facial recognition technology. Facial recognition is considered a serious threat by many to individual privacy, free expression, racial inequality, and also data security. People opposing it have their own valid reasons for the cause, and they oppose utilizing this technology in all its forms, citing its extremely high false positive rate and its consequences for civil and personal liberties, especially individual privacy.

People of color are among the top effectees

Critics say that facial recognition is biased towards people of color, women, and also children. And the fact that adds fuel to the fire is that surveillance cameras are more widespread in areas where immigrants live. The reason is the higher crime rate in those neighborhoods. The facial technology has not matured enough and its use in such conditions adds a layer of complication to the already existing scenario. The gaps in the justice system will increase due to the incompetence of the tech, which will contribute to strict sentencing and higher bails for the affected individuals.

Five different technologies used for assessment of facial recognition. Source: Harvard blog.

Are we moving back to the 18th century? When enslaved black people were required to carry a lantern after dark. To many of us, it might seem ridiculous, but there were “lantern laws” in New York back in the day. It’s surprising, isn’t it? But it’s a fact that the lantern laws required the people of mixed races, black individuals, and indigenous people (go ask the Mohicans) to carry lanterns lit with candles after dark. The only exception was if they were accompanying a white person. Talk about equality. The question is, are we heading back to the bitter history with our modern gadgets? 

All tools perform better on men as compared to women. Source: Gendershades.

Enforced deployment of facial recognition

Police and other law enforcement agencies are using facial recognition systems across the globe, despite the shortcomings it has. Surveillance is the primary sector of where it’s deployed the most. It is also widely deployed at airports for passenger screening and also for housing and employment decisions. In 2020, San Francisco and Boston and some other cities banned the use of facial recognition. According to an article on the Harvard blog by Alex Najibi,

“Police use face recognition to compare suspects’ photos to mugshots and driver’s license images; it is estimated that almost half of American adults – over 117 million people, as of 2016 – have photos within a facial recognition network used by law enforcement.”

The author also insists that,

“This participation occurs without consent, or even awareness, and is bolstered by a lack of legislative oversight.”

Source: Harvard blog.

Private companies are also trying to tap into biometric scanning in different ways and are gathering user data for various reasons. Blaming Google and Meta for gathering user data to the extremes is an old issue. The most recent cry was heard when the World Coin project, which is the brainchild of OpenAI’s CEO, Sam Altman, announced iris scanning for owning a coin. These initiatives from the private sector are indeed concerning. 

Compared to other biometric systems, including fingerprints, iris scanning, and voice recognition, facial recognition is the one with the highest error rate and the most contributing factor to privacy concerns and bias towards marginalized communities and children.

S.T.O.P., EFF, and Ban the Scan Movement

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (S.T.O.P.) oppose the idea of facial recognition deployment in any form. S.T.O.P. is New York based and its scope of work surrounds civil rights. It also performs research and advocacy for issues regarding surveillance technology abuse. Speaking of the ban on the scan movement, S.T.O.P. says,

“When we say scan, we are referring to the face scan component of facial recognition technology. Surveillance, and more specifically facial recognition,” 

Source: eff

They also say,

“It is a threat to free speech, freedom of association, and other civil liberties. Ban the Scan is a campaign and coalition built around passing two packages of bills that would ban facial recognition in a variety of contexts in New York City and New York State.”

Source: eff

About the legislations, S.T.O.P. is trying to expand the coalition for progress at the state level. It is also waiting for a hearing to be conducted on a bill for residential ban, and they are also working to get a bill to ban government use of this tech for all purposes on the city level.

To help more and more people get onboard in efforts to curb the government and public use of facial recognition, S.T.O.P. has set up a website by the name of banthescan.org where New York residents can find their legislators and can also seek their support for the bills.

Disclaimer. The information provided is not trading advice. Cryptopolitan.com holds no liability for any investments made based on the information provided on this page. We strongly recommend independent research and/or consultation with a qualified professional before making any investment decisions.

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Aamir Sheikh

Amir is a media, marketing and content professional working in the digital industry. A veteran in content production Amir is now an enthusiastic cryptocurrency proponent, analyst and writer.

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