Sep 7, 2019

The case for surveillance

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Boosters of surveillance technology argue that it can make cities safer, improve traffic, speed up airport and stadium lines, make workers more productive and safeguard valuable company property.

The big picture: People are willing to be watched in certain cases. Most people trust the police to use facial recognition responsibly, according to a new Pew Research survey, but the majority don't trust tech companies or advertisers to do the same.

Details: Police say facial recognition accelerates investigations, stripping away some human biases and shortcomings.

  • NYPD commissioner James O'Neill wrote in a New York Times op-ed in June that facial recognition matches led to nearly 1,000 arrests in 2018.
  • The volume of important digital evidence has exploded so fast that it's "quickly outpacing our ability to deal with it," says Jim Burch, president of the National Police Foundation.
  • But, but, but: Historically, surveillance hasn't clearly prevented or deterred terrorism and crimes. There’s no good data yet about emerging methods.

Companies, too, monitor employees' computers and phones to make sure they're not about to spill the beans to competitors or the press.

  • Or, by checking up on workers, they claim to "optimize productivity" and deliver projects more quickly.
  • For instance, Upwork, a company that helps clients find freelancers for code and design jobs, uses screen recording technology to "provide proof of work."

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How AI police surveillance treats people of color

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Advanced surveillance technology is being deployed despite flaws that risk perpetuating racial biases in the criminal justice system.

The big picture: Even with recent improvements in the tech, people of color are more likely to be misidentified by facial recognition software — an error that can have life-changing results. And predictive systems can reinforce biased over-policing of neighborhoods of color.

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Deep Dive: The end of anonymity

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Until now, the vast majority of information collected about us has remained untouched — there was just too much to make sense of it all.

What's happening: Artificial intelligence allows data that might once have gone unnoticed to now be detected, analyzed and logged in real time. It's already started supercharging surveillance at work, in schools and in cities.

Fooling facial recognition with fashion

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Some designers, researchers and activists are trying to fool facial recognition technologies with fashion.

What’s happening: The protests in Hong Kong have drummed up new interest in anti-surveillance fashion, according to designers Adam Harvey and Scott Urban.

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