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Brazilian subway operator pushing facial recognition despite sustained protests

Brazilian subway operator pushing facial recognition despite sustained protests

Use of facial recognition systems in the subways of São Paulo, Brazil, are being challenged by civil rights organizations and the state’s public defender’s office.

Opponents of Companhia do Metropolitano de São Paulo’s biometric network want it shut down immediately and compensation of R$42 million (approximately US$8.1 million). It is not spelled out in an announcement who would be compensated.

The groups say that São Paulo Metro’s indiscriminate surveillance network violates Brazil’s constitution and international treaties. A private firm, ViaQuatro, operates the Metro in partnership with the state of São Paulo.

ViaQuatro has said its system, in fact, performs facial detection, not recognition, a point that not everyone accepts.

It also is illegal under the nation’s General Law of Data Protection, the Consumer Defense Code, the Code of Users of Public Services and, perhaps crucially, the Child and Adolescent Statute, according reporting by Intervozes, a civil activist organization.

Intervozes and several fellow civil and human rights outfits filed suit March 3 after viewing a previous court-ordered release of system information.

Intervozes claims the face biometrics network cost more than R$50 million ($10 million).

For that money, opponents claim, the Metro got a system that is biased against people other than cis and white males.

It operates without consent and out of proportion to public needs and presents unique potential harm to minors, they say.

Two years ago, local government watchdog Access Now urged a ban on face biometrics in public transportation. At the time, in 2020, ViaQuatro was building an AI system for crowd analytics from U.S.-based AdMobilize.

Two years before that, ViaQuatro was involved in a lawsuit, after ViaQuatro put AI-enabled AdMobilize cameras over station doors. It used data short of facial recognition, according to the firm, to create targeted ad in stations.

A judge agreed with the plaintiffs in a class action that there was not enough practical difference between what ViaQuatro called facial detection and what Brazilian law defined as recognition.

One of the points spotlighted by the judge was that children and adolescents were distinctly protected against anyone processing data on them without the consent of guardians.

ViaQuatro was restricted to using its station-door marketing system only on people who had first given their consent.

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