Is Detroit becoming a surveillance city?

The Detroit Board of Police Commissioners has been holding public meetings to get feedback from citizens over their proposed use of facial recognition technology and use of aerial drones with the same.

Cities dealing with high rates of crime are citing safety issues as a reason to employ new tactics for crime prevention—but does the ability for government to monitor us, invade anonymity, and even store our identity constitute a larger problem?

Those who sacrifice essential liberty for perceived security deserve neither and lose both”

Some State Representatives in Lansing flirted with the idea of aerial drones in past sessions, and they were met with opposition, as questions were asked about facial recognition picking up the identity of the innocent, how the data would be stored, who would have access, how long the data would be stored, and if there would be penalty provisions should a law enforcement agent or a government agent would abuse such technologies and the data collected? The questions were never sufficiently answered and the bills quickly died in committee.

Earlier this month, the San Francisco city supervisors voted to ban the use of facial recognition for use by law enforcement, citing privacy issues and potential abuses. Similar bans are under consideration in Oakland and in Somerville, Mass., outside of Boston. In Massachusetts, a bill in the State Legislature would put a moratorium on facial recognition and other remote biometric surveillance systems. On Capitol Hill, a bill introduced last month would ban users of commercial face recognition technology from collecting and sharing data for identifying or tracking consumers without their consent, although it does not address the government’s uses of the technology.

In China, police officers have specially designed sunglasses equip with facial recognition software, they can identify you at will. Is this the society we wish to live in?

Consider as well, the recent story of actor Woody Harrelson. The New York Police Department used photos of actor Woody Harrelson to arrest a man who was accused of stealing beer from a CVS after officers concluded from a partial photo that the suspect looked like actor Woody Harrelson. Facial recognition software was used to make the arrest in 2017, according to a report released today by the Georgetown University Center on Privacy and Technology. The report, titled “Garbage In, Garbage Out: Face Recognition on Flawed Data,” also found that police departments, including the NYPD, edited photos — including copying facial features from photos of other people — in order to get a match.

Georgetown researchers are calling the incident representative of the risks associated with unregulated use of facial recognition software by police in the United States. They’re also calling for a local, state, and federal moratorium on facial recognition software use by police.

Concerned citizens observing its cities degenerating into communities as depicted in George Orwell’s novel, 1984 are raising question about RFID being used to track our behavior, autonomous vehicles communicating information and used by government for tax purposes or for driving behavior and pattern modification. Biometrics has been a subject in recent years as your body being used as ID. The Federal Government has been on a mission to implement REAL ID for several years going back to 2005. This would Federalize local identification. The implementation of Fusion Centers through executive fiat across the country sees multi-level law enforcement agencies sharing private data of citizens and with little to no citizen oversight.

All of it only adds to the concerns as cities like Detroit take incrimental steps towards what many perceive as a surveillance state.

The city has already flirted with biometrics by teaming up with private businesses for its “Project Green Light” A city of blinking green lights indicating to people that a business has facial recognition cameras being monitored by police.

The city of Pontiac has already installed facial recognition cameras everywhere in the downtown area sparking many citizens to reconsider whether or not they want to be out wondering who is watching their every step.

Beyond the obvious concerns, another related issue is the idea of a central data base for storing large amounts of personal information on each of us. Such centers are subject to hacking, security breeches by foreign actors, other governments, ect. What is our recourse should these breeches occur?

Is this the world we wish to live in—under constant surveillance?

(The Detroit City Board of Police Commissioners is still taking public comment on this matter—you can email them or attend a Thursday meeting in person. Find out more by linking here https://detroitmi.gov/government/boards/board-police-commissioners )

david dudenhoefer