Proposed Amendment Would Place Chicago Under Gaze of Colossal Facial Recognition Surveillance Network

Posted on October 16, 2018

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a CCDBR partner organization through its Electronic Frontier Alliance, city officials are considering a change to the municipal code that would allow private businesses in Chicago to deploy facial recognition software as part of their surveillance camera networks. As Chicago already relies on agreements with private businesses to feed their footage directly  into Chicago law enforcement databases, this would in effect dramatically enhance the Chicago Police Department’s ability to monitor and track Chicago residents, as well as the ability of other state and federal agencies with access to the database to do the same.

At a very basic level, this amendment would produce a chilling effect on First Amendment-protected speech. By supplementing government surveillance footage with the immensely greater volume of private sector footage, substantially less square mileage of the city would be free from law enforcement’s pervasive, suspicionless gaze. Citizens may be reluctant to publicly demonstrate knowing that there is a high likelihood that they can be identified.

It bears reiterating that the application of facial recognition is not limited to merely identifying subjects in frames of footage. As subjects traverse various facial recognition-enabled networks, the identification of their face can be correlated to the timestamp and the location of the camera network where their face appeared to digitally track the individual’s whereabouts in real time. Facial recognition software is also at such a primitive stage in its development that it frequently misidentifies the individuals captured in footage, especially racial minorities. This leads to a high rate of false positives for people belonging to groups that are already vulnerable to biased policing, and police interaction of any kind always carries a risk of serious harm–at present, the risk of needless risk of bodily harm is unsettlingly high.

Perhaps most concerning is that the proposed amendment is so general that it imposes almost no restrictions on what either private businesses or government bodies may do with the recorded video and tagged subjects. The businesses which deploy cameras armed with facial recognition software would be limited to using it for “security purposes,” but this is not precisely defined, making it easy to invoke “security purposes” for practically any purpose. Additionally, the proposed measure does not stipulate any privacy controls or reviews which Chicago law enforcement in possession of private facial recognition video footage must perform, or indeed which any law enforcement with authorized access to the footage must undertake. The amendment lays out no retention period (after which deletion would be mandatory), nor any limit on how facial recognition video can be used or what data can be derived and recorded from it by law enforcement.

As the amendment’s language stands, it would violate Illinois’s Biometric Information Privacy Act, which requires any entity which collects biometric information (which includes facial geometry) to get users’ explicit and informed consent for the entity to do so. In contrast to the restrictions in the BIPA, the amendment would only necessitate businesses placing signs at the entrance to their premises notifying customers that they would be subject to facial recognition while on private property.

Given the lack of meaningful limits on how footage with individuals tagged by facial recognition software can be used by private or public actors, or on how far the video may proliferate, the amendment, if ratified, would set the stage for abuse.

You can read the full piece from EFF here.