No Safe Place for Your Face? Daily Brief October 3, 2023

Daily Brief, October 3, 2023


Ever get the feeling you’re being followed?

Well, your fears may be justified, because new technology is making it easier than ever.

The use of facial recognition surveillance technology has expanded rapidly in recent years. Governments employ it to scan, identify, and profile people en masse.

They use it in Iran to spy on protests, in China to target people based on their ethnicity, and in Russia to curb political dissent. Around the world, facial recognition systems with artificial intelligence (AI) are employed to monitor and control us in public spaces.

And their use is spreading. Many countries, like Israel and the United Kingdom are planning to roll out even more.

The danger to our fundamental freedoms is clear: facial recognition surveillance technology amounts to mass surveillance. It undermines our privacy rights and threatens our rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.

It’s also a menace to our right to equality and freedom from discrimination. As with many newer technologies, facial recognition surveillance exacerbates existing structural inequalities and hits marginalized and vulnerable folks hardest. In short: the powerful have a new tool against the powerless.

Facial recognition surveillance tech is not compatible with international human rights law, and, among other things, is simply too dangerous and too powerful to be used in some circumstances without negative consequences for human rights.

This is why 180 rights groups and other experts have joined a new effort calling on governments and companies to stop using facial recognition surveillance tech in public spaces, and in migration and asylum contexts.

There is no safe-use case for this technology on our streets or at our borders.

We need governments to step up and ban facial recognition surveillance in these spaces, and companies to stop creating and using this powerful tool for surveillance purposes.

And we need laws, because hoping companies will do this on their own isn’t working. In 2020, some of the big tech companies pledged a moratorium on selling facial recognition surveillance tech, in response to human rights concerns, but we’re already seeing at least one company rolling back on that commitment.

The good news is some authorities seem to be getting the message. The latest draft of the European Union’s AI Act calls for an increased commitment to banning facial recognition surveillance in public spaces.

We have a right to walk around in public places without being followed as if we were criminal suspects. We have a right to gather as we choose. We have a right to live freely.

We should not allow our governments to have tools that make it easier for them to abuse our rights.