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Morning Spew

The NYPD Is Increasing Their Ability to Steal Your Face

Drone first responders, real-time Harlem surveillance, and more links for your weekend.

(Michael Appleton / Mayoral Photography Office)

Befitting National Police Week, the NYPD announced two new initiatives that have the potential to vastly expand the department's use of facial recognition technology. In Washington D.C., NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Operations Kaz Daughtry testified to Congress that the department will soon use drones as "first responders" in some 911 calls, and at a separate press conference, in Harlem, the NYPD announced that business owners in the neighborhood will be able to send their security camera feeds straight into nearby NYPD precincts. It's the second initiative of its kind, after a similar program in Flushing, that allows NYPD to view commercial video feeds in real time.

The drone program, Daughtry said, would be launched in three precincts in Brooklyn, one precinct in the Bronx, and one in Central Park. While Daughtry said that the drones themselves are not currently outfitted with facial recognition technology, running the video through the facial recognition software the NYPD is already known to have is most likely on the table.

The NYPD says the Harlem surveillance camera pilot program is aimed at targeting retail theft, and that the program will aggregate live video using a device the NYPD paid $1.5 million for. "The capability of business owners to share information with detectives seamlessly is key," Police Commissioner Edward Caban said at the presser.

But the consequences of such sweeping surveillance is ominous to those concerned about the NYPD's use of facial recognition technology. Civil liberties advocates, like the New York-based Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP) say that the technology is flawed and racially biased, and are currently pushing for the passage of four bills in state legislature, as well as a suite of local City Council bills to curtail facial recognition software's use in New York. Last week, the NYPD used facial recognition technology to arrest a 16-year-old who allegedly spray painted the word "Gaza" on a World War I memorial in Central Park.

“Whether we’re going to the grocery store, learning at school, or entering our homes, facial recognition does not keep New Yorkers safe,” Surveillance Technology Oversight Project Research & Advocacy Manager Corinne Worthington said in a statement. "This racist technology also has no place in policing, because time and time again, we have seen how it disproportionately impacts communities of color."

Efforts to ban the use of facial recognition in law enforcement have seen success—just last month, advocates moved legislators to successfully bar the MTA from using facial recognition to track down fare evaders

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