Resisting the rise of facial recognition

Legal challenges have emerged in Europe and parts of the United States, where critics of the technology have filed lawsuits to prevent its use in policing. Many US cities have banned public agencies from using facial recognition — at least temporarily — or passed legislation to demand more transparency on how police use surveillance tools. Europe and the United States are now considering proposals to regulate the technology, so the next few years could define how FRT’s use is constrained or entrenched. “What unites the current wave of pushback is the insistence that these technologies are not inevitable,” wrote Amba Kak, a legal scholar at New York University’s AI Now Institute, in a September report1 on regulating biometrics.

Surveillance concerns

By 2019, 64 countries used FRT in surveillance, says Steven Feldstein, a policy researcher at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington DC, who has analysed the technology’s global spread2. Feldstein found that cities in 56 countries had adopted smart-city platforms. Many of them purchased their cameras from Chinese firms, often apparently encouraged by subsidized loans from Chinese banks. (US, European, Japanese and Russian firms also sell cameras and software, Feldstein noted.)

Belgrade’s project illustrates concerns that many have over the rise of smart-city systems: there is no evidence that they reduce crime more than ordinary video cameras do, and the public knows little about systems that are ostensibly for their benefit. Krivokapić says he is worried that the technology seems more suited to offering an increasingly authoritarian government a tool to curb political dissent.

“Having cameras around in a young democracy such as Serbia can be problematic because of the potential for political misuse,” says Ljubiša Bojić, coordinator of the Digital Sociometrics Lab at the University of Belgrade, which studies the effects of artificial intelligence (AI) on society. “Although the situation has changed since the turmoil of the nineties, the dogma of police state and fear of intelligence agencies makes Serbia an inappropriate place for implementation of AI cameras.”

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