Public face biometrics increase in Brazil, scrutinized for biases, rights impact
Face biometrics deployments in Brazil have been multiplying over the last two years and are proving increasingly controversial for their scope and discrimination. In January 2022, the Military Police of Rio de Janeiro presented legislation aimed at the “emergency contracting of a company” for the installation of 22 facial recognition cameras in one particular community.
The move is part of a series of actions by the state of Rio de Janeiro, which are summarized in the Integrated City program, a smart city initiative aimed at encompassing social services and infrastructure works for the communities.
However, according to a group of privacy advocates writing for Le Monde Diplomatique Brasil, the initiative reproduces the model of military occupations in predominantly black and low-income regions that had “disastrous consequences” for human rights in the past.
The post mentions a study produced by the Panóptico project, which says the contracting reference term presented by the state of Rio de Janeiro has “methodological omissions,” including the unspecified duration of the trials and lack of dialogue with the residents. A study by public defenders’ groups further found that four out of every five unjust arrests involving facial recognition were of Black people.
“The use of facial recognition could open the door to the beginning of a predictive policing culture, common in the United States and defined by the collection and analysis of data from different sources, using the results to anticipate, prevent and respond to an alleged future crime,” wrote the researchers.
Surveillance projects based on face recognition are becoming more widespread around the world, with Ireland, France, and India working on them, but a profile by Motherboard of the CCTV networks in Telangana, and its capital of Hyderabad in particular cites similar concerns over predictive policing and overly broad surveillance of historically marginalized groups.
Others argue that biometric cameras are often a staple of smart city development, and can positively contribute to making urban areas safer.
But an MIT Technology Review article on the smart city system in Marseille, France refers to a pair of studies suggesting that only 2.2 percent of video surveillance searches are useful, and that video images help to solve only 1 percent of cases.
If incidents of law enforcement overreach and false arrests involving smart city systems outweigh reductions in crime, the market segment will face a wave of resistance.