• Press Release

Civil Rights Groups, Lawmakers Call On NYC And NY State To ‘Ban The Scan’, Outlaw Facial Recognition

January 26, 2021

Photo by Steffi Loos/Getty Images
On Tuesday, Amnesty International, the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (S.T.O.P.), New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, New York State Senator Brad Hoylman, Legal Aid Society, National Action Network, Warriors In The Garden, Immigrant Defense Project, New York Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other advocates held an online press conference calling on New York City and New York State to “Ban The Scan” and outlaw government use of facial recognition.

Advocates say that facial recognition is an immediate threat to New Yorkers’ safety and civil rights, particularly BIPOC communities. New York would join a growing number of cities and states that have outlawed facial recognition, including Boston, San Francisco, Portland, and Vermont.

“Facial recognition risks being weaponized by law enforcement against marginalized communities around the world. From New Delhi to New York, this invasive technology turns our identities against us and undermines human rights,” said Amnesty International AI and Human Rights Researcher Matt Mahmoudi. “New Yorkers should be able to go out about their daily lives without being tracked by facial recognition. Other major cities across the US have already banned facial recognition, and New York must do the same.”

“For years, the NYPD has used facial recognition to track tens of thousands of New Yorkers, putting New Yorkers of color at risk of false arrest and police violence.,” said Surveillance Technology Oversight Project Executive Director Albert Fox Cahn. “Banning facial recognition won’t just protect civil rights: it’s a matter of life and death. Every time it wrongfully accuses an innocent person, facial recognition puts them in police crosshairs. As the killing of Eric Garner and so many others has shown, every police encounter can be deadly, especially for Black New Yorkers. Alarmingly, the NYPD has used this same technology to spy on BLM protesters, tracking dissent instead of crime.”

Advocates are calling on New York State to enact Senate Bill S79, which would ban law enforcement use of biometric surveillance technology, including facial recognition. The groups also called on New York City to pass a comprehensive ban on all use of facial recognition by city agencies. Despite extensive pressure, the New York City Council has not yet introduced such a bill.

“Facial recognition is a biased and ineffective technology that puts New Yorkers at risk of harassment from police and prosecutors,” said New York State Senator Brad Hoylman. “That’s why I’ve introduced legislation (S.79) with Assemblymember Deborah Glick to immediately halt the use of facial recognition and other biometric surveillance technology by law enforcement. Thank you to Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, my constituent Derrick Ingram, S.T.O.P. Amnesty International, Legal Aid Society, National Action Network, Immigrant Defense Project, Electronic Frontier Foundation and NYCLU for supporting our legislation and for your work fighting back against this dangerous threat to our privacy and civil liberties.”

“Facial recognition is just the latest version of bias-based policing, a digital stop and frisk,” said New York City Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams. “This technology is a tool of oppression. It is biased, flawed, and its implementation will conform to the systemic biases we have long seen — a federal study showed that there were between 10 and 100 times more false matches among Black women than white men. We need city and state action to ban the scan and take on this facial recognition, which has the capacity to be not a tool of public safety, but a threat to it.”

“Face surveillance presents an unprecedented threat to everyone’s privacy and civil liberties, enabling the invasive power to track who we are, where we go, and who we meet,” said NYCLU Privacy and Technology Strategist Daniel Schwarz. “The technology is notoriously racially biased – particularly inaccurate for women and people of color – and over the last decade has been utilized in flawed, unscientific manners by the NYPD. We must ban face surveillance by government, in particular by law enforcement, and in other areas where our fundamental rights are at stake.”

“Over the past couple of decades, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (better known as ICE) has invested significantly in expanding its ability to surveil, arrest and deport people,” said Immigrant Defense Project Senior Policy Associate Jose Chapa. “This has included sharing information and technology with police—including biometrics such as fingerprints, and potentially facial recognition data. It is widely recognized that surveillance in the United States has increased to problematic levels that infringe on privacy, civil and human rights. New York City and State have an opportunity to curtail this infringement. That is why we are demanding that our elected officials ban facial recognition technology, especially as we move forward into uncharted technological territory.”

“Facial recognition is an invasive and flawed technology that has already led to false arrests,” said Supervising Attorney of the Digital Forensics Unit at the Legal Aid Society Jerome D. Greco. “The consequences of its misuse disproportionally affects people of color, women, young people, transgender people, and gender nonconforming people. We cannot allow law enforcement to hide behind technology to justify and perpetuate the biases and injustices already present in the criminal legal system. New York must ban the use of facial recognition by government agencies, just as other jurisdictions have already done.”

The speakers also asked the public to directly take action. The Ban the Scan website includes a petition supporting facial recognition legislation and a public comment portal for the NYPD. The comment portal makes use of the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology (POST) Act, a recently enacted New York City transparency law. Under the POST Act, the NYPD must review public comments on surveillance technology, including facial recognition, until February 25th, 2021.

Media contact: Mariya Parodi, senior press officer, Amnesty International USA, [email protected]

S.T.O.P. executive director, Albert Fox Cahn; [email protected].