Bodycams + Facial Recognition: A Bad Combination
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Bodycams + Facial Recognition: A Bad Combination

As the Black Lives Matter movement took to the streets over brutal killing of Black people by police in the US, a common call for change was to force all police to wear bodycams. Still today much video of police terror comes from cellphone video footage that a bystander or Copwatcher takes. It’s possible that we would not have known the last words of Eric Garner, “I can’t breathe,” if it weren’t for Ramsey Orta’s cellphone camera.

Bodycams provide some benefit while creating a series of privacy issues and still not addressing the rotten core of racist police terror. We do have more and more visual proof of how cops brutalize and terrorize poor Black & Brown communities; but the footage still rarely ever leads to arrest or prosecution. And time after time, the cameras mysteriously stop working, or footage is lost.

From fear to buy-in

Now, police agencies around the country – many of whom were dead set against bodycams to begin with – may start using facial recognition technology along with their bodycams. As reported by OneZero, police tech company Wolfcom is “developing live facial recognition for Halo, Wolfcom’s newest body camera model.”

The combination seems obvious: Police now have cameras on them at all times. Data storage for those videos is increasingly inexpensive (while vendors can charge huge markup for the privilege of using it) and facial recognition technology is all the rage for creeps, spooks and cops alike these days.

Wolfcom’s facial recognition would function “live”. As the camera takes footage of people, it would use an as-yet-unknown database to scan for faces. There is no information as to who will be in the database or how it will be controlled.

Wanted: Your Privacy

The biggest US manufacturer of bodycams, Axon, stated in 2019 that it wouldn’t add facial recognition technology to its products. This move by Wolfcom could force Axon’s hand as departments demand live facial recognition.

Imagine being at a protest, surrounded cops wearing bodycams. Or just hanging out outside the corner store, minding your business, when the cops roll by. Without a search warrant or any probable cause, law enforcement using live facial recognition could track where you are, who you’re around, and what you’re up to. And they could do this without individual officers even knowing your name or face themselves.

Even worse, facial recognition algorithms are shown to be biased against Black and trans people. Imagine, in that case, having your name associated with a place or event you weren’t even at.

As facial recognition continues to become more widespread and the cost to implement it continues to decrease, it’s up to us to demand that the government and private corporations not be able to use the technology against us.