Around the country, communities concerned about privacy and surveillance are seeking to secure a robust role for public community oversight to constrain the co-optation of local police departments by electronic surveillance. EFF supported recent victories for community control in Oakland and Berkeley, CA, before recommending today that the Bay Area Regional Transit (BART) Board reject recent proposals to expand surveillance on the BART system. 

The Board considered two proposals today. One was for a hastily crafted “Safety and Security Action Plan,” including a provision for a “Physical Security Information Management system” (PSIM) that “would be capable of monitoring thousands of simultaneous video streams and automating response recommendation.” The other was for a face surveillance scheme that seems to lack any awareness of the profound threat it could present to privacy, dissent, communities of color, and immigrants.

Facial recognition is an especially menacing surveillance technology, and BART should reject it. Given the wide proliferation of surveillance cameras and the choice of most people to expose their face in public, facial recognition technology can enable the government to track all of our movements and activities as we go about our days in public places.

If allowed to proceed, a face surveillance system will deter people from engaging in First Amendment activity in public places monitored by surveillance cameras. It will disparately impact people of color, because they are more likely than white people to suffer “false positive” matches, and because of structural inequities in our criminal justice system regarding who is listed in over-inclusive watchlists and error-riddled warrant databases. And it will menace immigrant communities, because federal immigration agencies may seek the massive set of sensitive data captured by these systems. 

Finally, both proposals ignore the Board’s prior discussions about creating a process for community oversight, and threaten the principles of community control advancing across California and elsewhere across the country. At a time when the federal government’s arbitrary uses of surveillance tools have prompted widespread concerns about the rights of vulnerable minorities, BART should place a priority on heeding communities’ concerns, rather than half-baked proposals for new surveillance schemes.

Read the letter we submitted below.

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