Someone must have slandered Josef K., because he was arrested one morning, without him having done anything wrong.
The beginning of the Kafkaesque novel is always interpreted as an absurdity, a figurative exaggeration in order to achieve an aesthetic impact and make the reader reflect on the dangerous gears of the justice system. However, it was in this same way that José Domingos Leitão, at his home in the city of Ilha Grande, in the interior of Piauí, woke up by surprise by the civil police of the DF. On this side of the equator, the absurd gains strength, concreteness and does not allow reflection or breathing, as it is stamped before us every day.
José Domingos, a black man from the Northeast, is yet another “isolated case” of an error in facial recognition technologies that has been increasing month after month in several cities across the country.
Read too: About 90% of people arrested using facial recognition are black
In 2021, in Recife, the debate on facial recognition technology intensified. The City Hall announced that 108 digital clocks would be installed throughout the city with various features, including facial recognition. The technology, according to the announcement, would gain space in Recife through a public-private partnership.
The possibility of installing cameras with this technology was seen with apprehension by human rights activists, social movements and professionals who work with technology, digital law and data protection. Rightly, given the negative results generated with the implementation of the technology in question in different places where it was applied, especially for the black, transvestite and transsexual population.
In response to the social movement, the City Hall held a Public Consultation and Public Hearing on the realization of the Public-Private Partnership through which several points were raised by civil society, in particular the proposal to ban facial recognition technology.
However, without effectively listening to the population, reinforcing the logic of a merely formal listening, in a process carried out hastily and with little transparency, the City Hall of Recife refuses to go back on the installation of facial recognition cameras. What gave rise to the articulation between several organizations and collectives, among them ANEPE, around the “No Camera on My Face” campaignwhich denounces the abuses and dangers of the implementation of this technology and aims to pressure the actors of the municipal executive power.
Read too: Digitized racism: how does prejudice printed in algorithms work?
To approach a topic like this, so new, whose debate still remains entrenched among academics, it is essential to translate it from its impacts on the population most vulnerable to this technology.
Thus, according to the survey produced by the National College of General Public Defenders (Condege), 58 recognition errors were mapped in the City of Rio de Janeiro alone, over a period of 10 months, with 80% of these victims being black people.
In the same vein, the Network of Security Observatories monitored cases of arrests and approaches with the use of facial recognition throughout the country and reached an alarming result: 90.5% of the arrests were of black people.
It is not by chance that the data demonstrate the concentration of errors from facial recognition cameras on the black population, although common sense understands automated decisions as neutral and reliable, one must pay attention to the reality that technology is not neutral.
In fact, behind the codes that program the artificial intelligence that recognizes and criminalizes citizens, there is a society still based on racism. The white supremacist thought that associates whiteness with the beautiful, pure, rich and innocent also acts in the degradation of the black person and in the kidnapping of the images produced about us, making the black people associated with subalternity, poverty, crime and violence.
It is against this background that facial recognition cameras are developed and “trained”, it was in this context that a photo of American actor Michael B. Jordan was used for photographic recognition of suspects in Ceará.
We are experiencing a digitalized update, a 2.0 version of the daily racism practiced by the police when they approach our young people for being in a “suspicious attitude”, read: being black.
Technology alone will never be the solution to public safety challenges. It is necessary to keep in mind the words of Abdias Nascimento: “Technology must exist as a support for the consecration of men and women in their condition of being”, far from the “current tendency to enslave the human being”.
In the birthplace of Gilberto Freyre whose thought naturalized the historic violence suffered by black people, the same city in which the police, in 2020, was responsible for the death of 113 people – all of them black. Insisting on a magical solution to the security problem, through the implementation of facial recognition technology, without considering the structural racism that underlies all local public security policy, is just pure wonder and denial (of racism). And, it seems, Recife’s City Hall is up to its neck in this digital fetish.
*José Vitor and Patrícia Teodósio are lawyers and members of the Black Articulation of Pernambuco.
**This is an opinion article. The author’s view does not necessarily express the newspaper’s editorial line Brazil de Fact Pernambuco.
Source: BdF Pernambuco
Editing: Elen Carvalho