Now Is the Time to Dismantle Our Cities’ Invasive Surveillance Infrastructure
Not all innovation deserves to exist — many surveillance and policing technologies should never have been created in the first place
It may have sounded radical when Amazon, IBM, and Microsoft announced they were either exiting the facial recognition market or enacting moratoriums on providing such software to police. And for the activists and scholars who have long been probing the serious problems with facial recognition and pushing for regulating or banning the software, there’s little doubt that this cascading response from major tech companies to public pressure is a real win.
But at the same time, these companies’ actions are obviously calculated business decisions. IBM was falling behind in facial recognition and saw a chance to bow out and score some PR points. Amazon and Microsoft are simply pressing pause until Congress creates regulatory standards for police deployment of facial recognition — regulations they will inevitably lobby to influence and capture. Ultimately, these actions are in the same vein of what Chris Gilliard has called #BlackPowerWashing. Sure, they have a bit more heft than the hollow corporate marketing statements that claim to care about Black Lives Matter and systemic racism because they read the room and made a tweet. But only a bit.
Making real progress requires unmaking the urban war machine that now governs our cities. We have to turn back the clock by systematically deconstructing, destroying, and prohibiting these technologies — starting with facial recognition, but not ending there.
Hardware and software, ubiquitous cameras and hidden stingrays, data analytics and predictive algorithms, command rooms and intelligent systems, in the sky and on the street. These various technologies — designed to capture the city and “dominate the battlespace” — also do not have a place in any society that rejects oppression. Dismantling the machinery of policing is a necessary method of confronting the forms of power that are channeled through this infrastructure.
Think of it as Marie Kondo, but for technology. Does this thing contribute to human well-being and/or social welfare? If…