Law enforcement is increasingly turning to software to surveil and anticipate crime. But a grassroots movement is emerging to resist algorithmic policing and to demand that lawmakers ban the most intrusive surveillance schemes.

Algorithms and artificial intelligence have dramatically expanded the ability of law-enforcement institutions to identify, track, and target individuals or groups. And civil rights activists say the new technologies erode privacy and due process. Community groups are beginning to understand the ramifications of AI for privacy, discrimination, and social movements and are pushing back.

The technology is error-prone and often discriminatory. A recent study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology found that facial-recognition software misidentified Black and Asian faces 10 to 100 times more frequently than it did white faces.

In Alameda County, Calif., activists have accused local police of systematically violating an existing ban.

Steven Renderos, the executive director of the advocacy organization MediaJustice and a named plaintiff in the Alameda lawsuit, said it felt “creepy,” but not surprising, when he discovered his own image in the Clearview AI database—photos of him taken at political events and posted to social media. While protest is intended to make people politically visible, he said:

“Scraping the web and building out this massive database that Clearview then turns around and sells to law enforcement [is] putting people’s political participation at risk and creating a chilling effect for people that will feel less likely to want to engage in that kind of behavior in the future.”

Steven Renderos, Execitive Director of MediaJustice, in The Nation

Renderos of MediaJustice is now helping to lead campaigns against tech firms like Amazon and Palantir, which have both supplied surveillance tools to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The aim is to shift the political conversation around algorithmic surveillance from a technical policy debate to an abolitionist discourse about the role that technology should, or shouldn’t, play in the governance and policing of vulnerable communities.


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