NYC Cop Mayor Eric Adams On Facial Recognition Tech: Big Brother Is Protecting You

NYC Cop Mayor Eric Adams On Facial Recognition Tech: Big Brother Is Protecting You

facial recognition

Crime has increased by 23.5 percent in New York City during New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ first year in office, and the former cop-turned-mayor — a fan of facial recognition technology — is promising to implement new policing technology that he said more accurately identifies common criminal patterns and develops profiles of perpetrators.

The Democratic mayor blames New York’s pandemic-era rise in crime on problems he inherited from former Mayor Bill de Blasio. Referring to 2022 as his “rookie year,” Adams promised to fulfill what he believes is a mandate by New York voters, Sally Goldenberg and Joe Anuta reported for Politico.

Over the past year, Adams has promoted the use of cameras and championed facial recognition devices, which have been used by governments worldwide for years to screen people entering certain sites, from sports stadiums to customs checkpoints.

The highly controversial facial recognition technology notoriously fails Black people and it’s part of a bigger problem where algorithms written by mostly white men are biased and have a hard time understanding different skin colors, different shades and genders, according to Brian Brackeen, founder and former CEO of Miami facial recognition firm Kairos.

“It blows my mind how much we have not embraced technology, and part of that is because many of our electeds are afraid. Anything technology they think, ‘Oh it’s a boogeyman. It’s Big Brother watching you,’” Adams said in an interview with Politico. “No, Big Brother is protecting you.”

Facial recognition software works by using images captured on a surveillance video and comparing them to growing photo databases of people — many, with no known criminal history — including driver’s license IDs and pictures from social media. The software sends out an alert when it assumes it has found a match.

Critics are concerned about the technology’s accuracy, invasion of privacy and the potential for abuse of an unregulated system.

In the U.S., where 50 percent of us have our faces in databases that may be available to law enforcement, algorithmic bias has had tragic consequences for Black people and people of color, said Brackeen, who spoke on the topic at a panel at SXSW 2018.

Some U.S. cities have stopped using the technology or banned it. Adams promises to expand its use. On his watch, New York City has seen a reduction in shootings and murders, but felonies and misdemeanors increased in nearly every other measurable category.

Adams often talks of being abused by police officers in the 1970s. He later worked inside the New York City Transit Police and NYPD for 22 years, rising to the rank of captain.

New York City police bought surveillance tools including facial-recognition software with no public oversight, according to documents published in 2021 by civil rights groups the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP) and the Legal Aid Society.

Documents show that the NYPD spent at least $159 million since 2007 through a little-known “Special Expenses Fund” that did not require approval by the city council or other municipal officials, and amounted to a “surveillance slush fund,” Wired reported in 2021.

The NYPD used facial recognition technology to track down prominent Black Lives Matter activist Derrick Ingram, who co-founded the nonviolent activist group Warriors In The Garden. Ingram was connected to an alleged “assault on a police officer” during a June 14, 2020 protest following the murder of George Floyd, who died while in Minneapolis police custody. Ingram was accused of putting a handheld megaphone against a police officer’s ear and yelling, causing pain and impairment.

Albert Fox Cahn is head of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, the watchdog group that fights what it considers police overreach.

“The NYPD has a decade-long history of abusing its surveillance operations to target Black New Yorkers, Muslim New Yorkers, political protests and every aspect of dissent,” Cahn said. “These are technologies that would be chilling in anyone’s hands. But to give an agency with such a horrifying record of surveillance abuse even more power, at a time when they face dwindling oversight, is a recipe for disaster.”

Photos: Eric Adams, then Brooklyn borough president and Democratic candidate for NYC mayor, speaks during a debate with a Republican candidate, Oct. 26, 2021. (Eduardo Munoz/Pool Photo via AP) / The NYPD used disputed facial recognition technology and a disproportionate show of force to hunt down 28-year-old Black Lives Matter activist Derrick Ingram. Photo: Instagram