At their Nov. 18 meeting, the Portland City Council delayed voting on a proposal to ban the use of facial recognition software by city employees. The reason? To give councilors more time to study the issue. I was at the meeting to provide public comment as an academic expert on surveillance. The issue is clear. No further study is needed. We know enough to act: Ban facial recognition software now.

Surveillance has been a subject of scholarly research for nearly 50 years. In the 1970s, Michel Foucault’s seminal work “Discipline and Punish” identified surveillance as a central feature of modern power. Surveillance is significant because it shapes human behavior in the most intimate ways. A subject who is under surveillance is one who has internalized the gaze of authority and changed their thoughts and behaviors. In other words, a surveillance system like facial recognition technology is not a technical matter of good government, like buying a better snowplow. It’s a serious issue with implications for the nature of social interaction and what it means to be human.

A future where facial recognition technology is normal is one where your “data double” is more closely linked to your physical person. Many of our social interactions are based on a degree of relative anonymity. Do we want a world where strangers greet us by our first names in public? Facial recognition technology allows us to be easily linked to the trove of data about each of us: the government records, financial transactions and patterns of phone, internet and social media use that comprise our “data double.” A future where facial recognition technology is normal is one where our data double is used to control individual mobility and access to public space and social services.

Facial recognition technology would be a further intensification of the intertwined surveillance systems that “socially sort” individuals for the purposes of administration. Some people are coded as problems of security to be feared and hated, tracked and managed. Others are identified as productive subjects to be variously sorted into different market segments and different risk pools as consumers, sources of labor and objects of capital investment. Regardless of our social locations, automated algorithms and human intelligence analysts render our lives legible for the purposes of state and corporate powers. Facial recognition technology – and surveillance in general – do not exist to protect us. It’s incompatible with oft-claimed notions of freedom and liberty that are said to make America great. We shouldn’t be considering the balance of privacy and security but rather how to maintain freedom in the face of ever-creeping systems of social control.

I urge the City Council to reckon with the gravity of this issue. The ban is about more than facial recognition technology. It’s about making the politics of “smart cities” explicit. It’s about actually having conversation about the automated systems of surveillance that are remaking our lives in the names of security, convenience and efficiency. The ban is also an assertion of democratic power. It would tell the federal government and corporations – remember the influence peddler Microsoft sent to the Nov. 18 meeting? – that the city of Portland and state of Maine are the authors of their own future.

If Portland bans facial recognition technology, the city would be joining a growing movement. A coalition of social movement organizations has launched a national campaign to ban facial recognition technology. Somerville, Massachusetts, and San Francisco and Oakland, California, have already banned it. More cities are considering the issue. Some will act with courage and ban facial recognition technology. Portland should be one of them.

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