Watch the Watcher: Facial-Recognition & Police Oversight

Wednesday, January 29, 2020 - 11:45 am12:15 pm

Eileen McFarland, Lucy Parsons Labs


Increased state use of facial recognition technology threatens to increase the power dynamic between the state and disenfranchised communities. However, what happens when individuals use facial recognition to watch the watchers? OpenOversight is an open-source project that promotes police accountability through public data. Users can sort through photos to identify an officer against whom they would like to complain. A lack of officer identification information has stifled previous attempts to monitor police; in Chicago from 2011–2015, 28% of complaints against police were immediately dropped due to a lack of identification. The OpenOversight team has leveraged facial recognition to make the project more effective. For example, we use the AWS tool Rekognition, which has been used by various police departments, to identify with 90% accuracy if police or military officers are present in a photo. This pre-processing has made the volunteer job of photo sorting more efficient. We also use facial recognition to match new photos against existing images in the database. After a discussion of this technical implementation, the talk will close by discussing the legal considerations that we encountered, such as department-specific guidelines and compliance with Illinois' Biometric Information Privacy Act.

Eileen McFarland, Lucy Parsons Labs

Eileen is a member of the data liberation and civic transparency organization Lucy Parsons Labs, where she focuses on web app development. She has worked as a software developer on a variety of projects, using Java/Spring, Go, and AWS. With a background in legal aid, Eileen remains involved in civic tech projects, such as OpenOversight. When not programming, she enjoys doing yoga, reading, and people-watching. She once dropped her camera into a waterfall in Ecuador after rappelling down aforementioned waterfall. The camera still works, and Eileen likes to view it as a reminder of the importance of resilience.

@conference {244736,
author = {Eileen McFarland},
title = {Watch the Watcher: Facial-Recognition \& Police Oversight},
year = {2020},
address = {San Francisco, CA},
publisher = {{USENIX} Association},
month = jan,