While elected officials have expressed concerns over increasing the use of facial recognition technology recently, saying that it could lead to an all-pervasive Orwellian surveillance system. In response to the criticism surrounding expanding facial recognition technology, New York City Mayor Eric Adams not only belittled the officials but also declared that “Big Brother is protecting you.”
Adams has been pushing for the increased use of the technology to “stabilize” New York’s spiraling criminal activity blaming former mayor Bill de Blasio for making New Yorkers feel like they are living in a “state of lawlessness.”
Facial technology uses CCTV cameras to track and flag individuals who are listed in criminal databases when they enter public places. However, the technology has been known to flag people erroneously and certainly has flaws.
In defending his decision to use the questionable technology to reduce crime rates in New York, Adams had previously said, “We will also move forward on using the latest in technology to identify problems, follow up on leads and collect evidence — from facial recognition technology to new tools that can spot those carrying weapons, we will use every available method to keep our people safe.”
As other officials cautioned against the use of facial recognition, noting that it can be a slippery slope, Adams said, “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 continued, “No, Big Brother is protecting you.”
Adams, while completely disregarding what other elected officials have told him, is insistent that New Yorkers will embrace “Big Brother.” The same was assumed in George Orwell’s dystopian class, 1984, and it did not come to pass.
Among the critics of Adams’ plan to use the technology to crack down on crime in the city is Albert Fox Cahn, head of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, who 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.”
Many civil liberties advocates fear that normalizing facial recognition technology would lead to a society in which everyone is tracked around the clock regardless of their criminal status or where they are going. It is a valid concern that stems from the pages of 1984.
In China, facial recognition is now used to determine whether or not a citizen is given access to the internet. According to the Daily Mail, “At present, a Chinese citizen will need to show his or her ID card while applying for a landline or the internet. The facial-recognition test is set to verify that the ID card belongs to the applicant.”
The use of a technology that reveals a person’s identity and information without them being aware of it is not only a violation of civil liberties but is also simply dangerous in the wrong hands, and with the lack of oversight in New York, Eric Adams would be setting the city up for a utopian nightmare if allowed to implement his desired system. The elected officials voicing their criticism might be the last line of defense between New Yorker’s freedom and “Big Brother.”