Fight for the Future is spearheading a campaign to ban the use of facial recognition technology in restaurants and retail outlets. The appropriately-named Ban Facial Recognition in Stores campaign has already been backed by more than 35 privacy and civil liberties organizations.
The problem, according to Fight for the Future, is that facial recognition can have an extremely adverse effect on both customers and employees, especially if the system is integrated with law enforcement databases. The technology would essentially allow private businesses to conduct background checks of their customers in real time, and deny entry to anyone with an arrest record – or even someone who simply attended a protest at some point in the past.
That raises obvious concerns about racial profiling given the known biases of facial recognition systems. It would also give law enforcement agencies a way to circumvent existing privacy law. In that regard, Fight for the Future cited a letter from Senator Ron Wyden that suggests that the Pentagon is buying access to private surveillance data to get around public facial recognition bans. Under such a system, stores can sell customer data to organizations like ICE, or to the police more generally, as is already happening with Project Green Light in Detroit.
Project Green Light gives the Detroit Police Department (DPD) direct access to video footage from more than 700 businesses in the city. The system has facial recognition capabilities, and the DPD has indicated that it plans to continue using the technology despite a complaint that stems from a false arrest that was the result of a false facial recognition match.
Facial recognition could also affect customer service in ways that go beyond law enforcement. For example, stores could use it to direct customer service resources away from people who have received welfare, thereby creating a tiered system that creates a worse shopping experience for many individuals. The technology could similarly be used to track employees throughout the entire workday, and micromanage activities like bathroom breaks.
Fight for the Future is trying to put pressure on private businesses to swear off any form of facial recognition. The organization identified Albertsons, Lowes, and Macy’s as some of the companies that are currently using the technology. Walmart, Home Depot, Target, Costco, and Dollar Tree are among those that have pledged not to use it, while the positions of Best Buy, 7-11, Walgreens, and McDonald’s remain unclear.
In the United States, most facial recognition bans only apply to government organizations. However, the city of Portland, Oregon has passed a bill that bans the use of the technology in commercial establishments.
July 15, 2021 – by Eric Weiss