An Interview with Tracy Rosenberg (Executive Director, Media Alliance & Co-coordinator, Oakland Privacy.org)
By Lisa Rein & Tracy Rosenberg of the Aaron Swartz Day Police Surveillance Project
New! We’ve just updated our Muckrock Templates for Filing Requests re: Surveillance Equipment.) Use these handy templates to request information on the existence of any and every known piece of surveillance equipment. Works for Police (city) AND Sheriff (county).
Tracy Rosenberg & Lisa Rein will be discussing the Aaron Swartz Day Police Surveillance Project, its templates, latest results from Sacramento & many other cities in California at this month’s Raw Thought Salon on March 8th – from 7-9pm.
Then stay from 9pm-2am to dance and hang out in artist Grumpy Green’s super special Psychedelic Chill Room (an immersive art installation). DJs include: Melotronix, Tha Spyryt, Ailz, & Cain MacWitish – with visuals by Projekt Seahorse – all at our March 8th Raw Thought at the DNA Lounge in San Francisco! TICKETS
Facial recognition software allows cops to feed in images of people and look them up in real time. For instance at a protest or any kind of public gathering. One of the new planned technical innovations is to put the software onto the body cameras many police now carry, turning cops into walking facial recognition programs.
Lisa Rein: Hi Tracy! Thanks for helping me give folks an update about what we know now about facial recognition.
Tracy Rosenberg: No problem.
LR: So, you were telling me that, currently, to your knowledge, no city has yet to put body cameras with facial rec out on “the street?”
TR: That’s right. So far, it’s just an idea being talked about and explored. As with much of law enforcement use of facial recognition software, it is isolated and spotty, but we are seeing more and more. The threat is very real.
For body cameras carrying the software, there is no police department yet doing it. However, Axon-Taser, which dominates the police body camera market after acquiring their primary competitor VieVu last year, says they are exploring and proactively put in place a new corporate ethics board in the hopes of stemming the expected public uproar.
And when SF-based Assembly member Phil Ting tried to include a ban on facial recognition software being attached to police body cameras in his legislation (AB748) to make body camera videos available as public records, law enforcement fought very hard and was eventually able to force the removal of that clause from what eventually became law. That was virtually unreported by the press in their coverage of the law and it was a big deal.
The most prominent facial recognition software producer, of course, is Amazon with their “Rekognition” product, which they have been shopping around to municipal police departments and to ICE. A public records act request by the ACLU revealed that two police departments were takers, the Orlando PD and the Washington County Sheriffs Department in Oregon.
Both are engaged in “pilot projects” (as is also the case in Alameda which we’ll discuss below).
Orlando paused their pilot program briefly in response to public scrutiny, but has now started it up again.
LR: What other implementations are on the horizon in the facial recognition space?