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San Francisco, Oakland, and many other major cities have banned facial recognition surveillance. So can Santa Clara County.

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The evidence is absolutely overwhelming : government surveillance disproportionately targets the communities of color , adding to the already abundantly apparent racial bias in general policing.

Examples include:

  • In January 2015, the Electronic Frontier Foundation found that automatic license plate readers mounted on law enforcement vehicles collected more data in Black and Latinx communities than white ones.
  • In February 2020, the Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) purchased access to a commercial database of cell phone that led to the discovery of a tunnel from Mexico to a closed restaurant in Arizona. The owner of the restaurant was subsequently arrested.

New surveillance technologies often rely on historical policing data for their algorithms, making them just as bias as past policing. In May 2016, ProPublica reported that a computer program labeled black defendants much more likely to reoffend as white defendants. Biased data is not the only problem, but programs also tend to have the biases of their creators built into them, espcially facial recognition. A 2019 federal study found that African American and Asian individuals are 100 times more likely to be misidentified by facial recognition.

Facial Recognition in Santa Clara County

The county of Santa Clara County Sherriff’s Office currently employs facial recognition to “to assist law enforcement in the identification of persons involved in a criminal investigation.” The program’s use policy states that the data may be shared with “other law enforcement agencies if approved by the Sheriff or designee for a specific criminal investigation”. It is unclear the extent of what constitutes a “criminal investigation” but the CPC is in the process of investigating other agences the data may be shared with.

In 2015, the San Jose Police Department (SJPD) applied for a federal grant of $500,000 to “establish a county-wide Facial Recognition Committee.” The proposed committee would be comprised of every law enforcement agency in Santa Clara County, including the County Sheriff’s office and San Jose State University Police, and would aim to “utilize facial recognition technology to aid in identification of suspects crossing jurisdictional boundaries to commit crimes.”

SJPD was not awarded the grant, but it is unclear what became of the initiative behind the application. The CPC is in the process of investigating the matter further. According to Fight for the Future , SJPD has partnered with Amazon’s Ring which has facial recognition patents.

Sign the Petition

Due to the concerns outlined above San Francisco , Oakland , Alameda , and Berkeley are all Bay Area cities that have banned the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement. Other cities in the United States are starting to follow suit. Santa Clara County can do the same.

Stand with black lives. Stand with brown lives. Sign our petition today and tell our government officials to ban facial recognition surveillance in Santa Clara County.

Sign now