Amnesty International is asking for digital volunteers to help map the locations of all of the public CCTV cameras in New York City. The organization is undertaking the initiative in an effort to assess the scope of the New York Police Department’s facial recognition network.
Those who participate in the Decode Surveillance NYC program will be given a Google Street View image, and will be asked to tag all of the public cameras (including city CCTV cameras) in that image. Each image depicts a different intersection, and each image will be shown to multiple volunteers to verify the counts and ensure consistent reporting.
Amnesty itself is hoping that the results will make people more aware of the NYPD’s extensive surveillance capabilities, which could in turn create more pressure for lawmakers to ban the police use of facial recognition technology. In that regard, the organization expects that the map will be finished before June, ahead of a major vote in the New York State Senate.
“Decode Surveillance NYC will attempt to show that it is virtually impossible for New Yorkers to go about their daily lives, without risking being tracked by facial recognition,” said Amnesty Human Rights Researcher Matt Mahmoudi. “Police use of facial recognition in New York continues to exacerbate systemic racism. This is emblematic of how law enforcement globally is weaponizing the technology against the most marginalized groups.”
“The Decoders community has helped Amnesty research and expose human rights violations on a scale that would not have been possible otherwise,” added Amnesty Evidence Lab head Sam Dubberley. “This unique network provides a real advantage as we seek to document the harms caused by facial recognition technology.”
The Decode project is part of Amnesty’s broader Ban the Scan campaign, which kicked off in January. The organization is focusing on New York in the hopes that other cities will follow suit if a ban is implemented in such a high-profile metro center. The volunteers will be located all over the world, and anyone with a mobile phone or a computer is able to participate.
New York Democrats first raised the prospect of a temporary facial recognition ban in September. The state’s Governor has since signed a bill that prohibits the use of facial recognition in public and private schools.
May 5, 2021 – by Eric Weiss