EFF wants to help end government use of face surveillance in your community. To aid in that effort, we’ve partnered with community-based organizations in the Electronic Frontier Alliance—and other concerned civil society organizations—in launching About Face. Our About Face campaign is a way for residents in communities throughout the United States to call for an end to government use of face surveillance.
The About Face campaign site (aboutfacenow.org) offers a petition where you can show your support for ending face surveillance in your community. The About Face campaign site also features helpful resources to support your local efforts, and draft legislation community members and local lawmakers can adapt to meet the needs of your community. Our model legislation addresses the most critical concerns: defining the technology, setting the scope of the ban, and assuring that your ban is enforceable.
Why It's So Important
Many forms of biometric data collection raise a wealth of privacy, security, and ethical concerns. Face surveillance ups the ante. We expose our faces to public view every time we go outside. Paired with the growing ubiquity of surveillance cameras in our public, face surveillance technology allows for the covert and automated collection of information related to when and where we worship or receive medical care, and who we associate with professionally or socially.
Many proponents of the technology argue that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy when we spend time in public, and that if we have nothing to hide, we have nothing to fear. EFF is not alone in finding this argument meritless. In his recent majority opinion in the watershed Carpenter v. United States (2018), Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts wrote: “A person does not surrender all Fourth Amendment protection by venturing in the public sphere.” In a recent Wired interview, Attorney Gretchen Greene explains: “Even if I trust the government, I do care. I would rather live in a world where I feel like I have some privacy, even in public spaces.” Greene goes on to identify the inherent First-Amendment concerns implicated by government use of face surveillance: “If people know where you are, you might not go there. You might not do those things.”
Like many of us, Greene is particularly concerned about how the technology will impact members of already marginalized communities. “Coming out as gay is less problematic professionally than it was, in the US, but still potentially problematic. So, if an individual wants to make the choice [of] when to publicly disclose that, then they don’t want facial recognition technology identifying that they are walking down the street to the LGBTQ center.” These concerns are not limited to any one community, and the impacts will be felt regardless of intent. “We’re not trying to stop people from going to church, we’re not trying to stop them from going to community centers, but we will if they are afraid of [the consequence] in an environment that is hostile to, for instance, a certain ethnicity or a certain religion.”
A 2013 study conducted by The Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition (MACLC), The Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility (CLEAR) Project, and The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) found that excessive police surveillance in Muslim communities had a significant chilling effect on First Amendment-protected activities. Specifically, people were less likely to attend mosques they thought were under government surveillance, to engage in religious practices in public, or even to dress or grow their hair in ways that might identify them as members of a targeted community.
Law enforcement has already used face surveillance technology at political protests. In a “Case Study” obtained by the ACLU, Geofeedia, a company with a history of labeling Unions and Activist Groups as “Overt Threats”, bragged that during the protests surrounding the death of Freddie Gray, the Baltimore Police Department ran social media photos of protesters against a face recognition database to identify participants and arrest them.
Unlike a driver’s license, credit card, license plate, or social security number, you can’t simply replace your face the next time a government agency or contractor fails to effectively protect the sensitive data they’ve been trusted to safeguard.
How you can help
Persuading government agencies across the United States to end their use of face surveillance is not a small undertaking. We need your help.
Each time 100 people sign the petition to end their city’s use of face surveillance, we will work with our local partners to make sure area lawmakers know how critically important it is to their constituents that we change course and ban this practice. There is no substitute for local, on-the-ground activism. The success of About Face relies on our network of local activists in the Electronic Frontier Alliance and beyond. If your community-based group or hackerspace would like to join us in bringing an end to government use of face surveillance, consider adding your names to the petition and joining the Alliance.