|FROM ||Ruben Safir
|SUBJECT ||Subject: [Hangout - NYLXS] Facial Recongition in NYC Traffic
Facial recognition cameras are planned for New York City bridges and
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Image: SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/AP Images
By Brett Williams
Jan 27, 2017
Last fall, New York governor Andrew Cuomo laid out a sweeping initiative
for the bridges and tunnels of New York City. The "transformational
plan," which is part of a larger, $100 billion infrastructure effort for
the state, aims to "reimagine New York's crossings" for the 21st century
and the future — a future that, in some aspects, looks to be straight
out of Minority Report.
The plan calls for the installation of cameras equipped with advanced
facial recognition technology in an effort to track everyone entering
and exiting the city via the extensive network of tunnels and bridges.
Those systems would be implemented in the name of increased security
against terror threats, but its potential ramifications for privacy and
abuse by law enforcement agencies has experts concerned.
SEE ALSO: Artist finds brilliant way to mess with facial recognition
Cuomo's initial announcement was light on the details of how such a
system might work, how it might be implemented and when.
At each crossing, and at structurally sensitive points on bridges
and tunnels, advanced cameras and sensors will be installed to read
license plates and test emerging facial recognition software and
But a Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) memo obtained by Vocativ
though a Freedom of Information Act request provides some more
insight into how the city might look to track the people inside the
estimated 800,000 vehicles that cross through MTA tunnels and
bridges every day.
The document, which was drafted by the MTA's Bridges and Tunnels
division, was sent to contractors on Dec. 12, 2016 as a solicitation
for "information of a Facial Detection and Recognition system," to
be installed on nine MTA-controlled bridges and tunnels.
Specifically, the system the MTA is planning to implement will
detect both individuals and their license plates using the tech.
The Authority is interested in implementing a Facial Detection
System, in a free-flow highway environment, where vehicle
movement is unimpeded at highway speeds as well as
bumper-to-bumper traffic, and license plate images are taken and
matched to occupants of the vehicles (via license plate number)
with Facial Detection and Recognition methods from a
gantry-based or road-side monitoring location.
According to Vocativ, another memo dated Dec. 23 extended the
deadline for contractor submissions until Jan. 3 of this year.
We don't know where the project stands at the moment, as
Mashable's attempts to reach both the MTA and Governor Cuomo's
office for comment were unsuccessful.
The implementation of this type of facial recognition system is
troubling to Clare Garvie, an associate at Georgetown
University’s Center for Privacy and Technology and co-author of
a report on law enforcement's unregulated use of facial
recognition tech. Mashable spoke with her via phone about the
issue (she also provided insight to Vocativ's report on the
Since the system described in the MTA memo seems to be geared by
counterterrorism, Garvie calls it "a law enforcement tool."
"Face recognition is a very unique surveillance tool because
it's a biometric tool that can be used in secret, remotely
without people knowing it's being used," she said. "That, and it
can be used on a crowd of people passing by a particular point
as opposed to just one individual at a certain time."
In Garvie's understanding, this system would theoretically check
the scans of the faces it reads against a list of individuals
identified as threats looking for a match. Given the current
state of the tech, this list would have to be very small to work
in real time — but as the systems improve, she says it's "very
likely" that it would be feasible that those lists could grow.
Especially in light of the today's political climate and the
current administration's statements about sanctuary cities, this
type of targeted observation of the public on such a massive
scale opens up the system to potential abuses — unless
preemptive action is taken to set up safeguards.
"With the creation of a system like this, what really needs to
be put in place is a prohibition on its use as a tracking tool,"
Garvie said. "New York needs to put in place public controls on
who is enrolled in these systems to ensure that it won't be used
to, for example, target immigrant communities for any reason in
the future. The technology is improving rapidly so it's
foreseeable that the systems will be able to do that in the
That said, the threat of potential abuse, along with the actual
practical functionality of such a facial recognition system, is
still in the future. Garvie believes these systems have to
contend with too many variables to be effective today.
That's why she thinks it's so vital to implement policies that
focus on the privacy and First Amendment rights of individuals
before it can become a problem, rather than reacting to abuses
after the fact.
"Imagine the worst case scenario of cameras that can identify
people walking by and we might have that in the future," Garvie
said. "We have law enforcement agencies really pushing to
implement this technology, we have companies really pushing
their realtime capabilities, and we don't have a similar move on
the part of the public or the legislature, largely I think from
lack of transparency about this."
So many immigrant groups have swept through our town
that Brooklyn, like Atlantis, reaches mythological
proportions in the mind of the world - RI Safir 1998
DRM is THEFT - We are the STAKEHOLDERS - RI Safir 2002
http://www.nylxs.com - Leadership Development in Free Software
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Being so tracked is for FARM ANIMALS and extermination camps,
but incompatible with living as a free human being. -RI Safir 2013
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