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NYC argues over increased scrutiny for police use of facial recognition

NYC argues over increased scrutiny for police use of facial recognition
 

An argument against giving police facial recognition surveillance is that transparency is hard to guarantee because law enforcement officials equate openness with weakness.

Acrimonious debates about AI surveillance in New York City are a textbook example.

Some City Council members say the New York Police Department is playing disclosure games with usage data. They say they want to make sure AI isn’t misused or incompetently applied to residents. To do that, council members say, the police must follow reporting policies.

NYPD officials say they are faithfully fulfilling the 2020 so-called POST Act governing the use of advanced surveillance. And, they say, imposing more transparency will tie the department in reporting knots and give criminals and terrorist the information they need to successfully attack.

Privacy and civil rights advocates say the temptation to use facial recognition in prohibited ways and situations is too great to let the NYPD obfuscate in reports.

The Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology (or POST) Act, addresses police use of a variety of surveillance technologies, but it’s facial recognition systems that lie at the heart of this debate.

Last Friday, the council’s technology and public safety committees listened to testimony from the NYPD and others, including the city’s comptroller (whose testimony is here), about three bills that are more explicit in their disclosure demands.

Police officials reject all three.

Bill 1195-2023 specifically regulates the NYPD’s facial recognition systems. The department’s web site would have to carry procedures and regulations for the biometric tools. Biannual audits of AI use would be required, and they would have to be posted on the site, too.

Bill 1193-2023 would update the POST law to require, on request, evaluations and reports on surveillance tools used by the police. It would force the department to create an itemized list of the tools. And, quarterly, officials would have to declare all newly declared and discontinued tool.

Bill 1207-2023 would require that the NYPD be more transparent in how it addresses the POST Act’s impact and use disclosures. Police warn that if they are required to publish Impact and Use Policies for each new model of camera or officer’s smartphone purchased would be “extremely harmful” to their operations, reports City & State New York.

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