InterIm’s Corner: Facial recognition technology in surveillance cameras threatens civil liberties

InterIm’s Corner: Facial recognition technology in surveillance cameras threatens civil liberties


Dear Community,

As an organization that has worked to make the Chinatown-International District (CID) a safe, healthy and welcoming neighborhood for over 50 years, we applaud the efforts of those who are concerned about public safety and are taking action to address it. However, we are very concerned about the use of facial recognition technology within the 43 cameras that are being proposed throughout the neighborhood that the ACLU said would create an “unprecedented ability to track who we are, where we go, what we do, and who we are.” Facial recognition surveillance throughout the CID could have a profoundly negative impact on the well-being of people in our community with unintended consequences , especially against immigrants, refugees, religious minorities and people of color.

According to the Seattle Times, a study called Gender Shades found that facial recognition technology was more accurate on white and male faces than darker and female faces. In a neighborhood that is over 50% female and 75% non-white, this leaves large numbers of people living in the CID vulnerable to being falsely accused of a crime they didn’t commit. These false accusations would result in jail time and fines posing a undue hardship on the average person in our neighborhood who makes just under $22,000.

But even more basically, we must not open the door to civil liberties violations against innocent community members in our heavily immigrant, refugee, religious minority and person of color neighborhood. The current administration has shown its hostility to immigrants, refugees and people of color whether documented or undocumented. Furthermore, our community has a history of the government using surveillance data to harm us. The most prominent example is the WWII incarceration of Japanese Americans, with that trauma lingering in this community to this day.

The cities of San Francisco and Oakland, California have both banned the use of facial recognition technology by city governments for inaccuracy, privacy and social liberties reasons. Let’s heed their example.

Despite everything that is wrong with the proposed facial recognition technology, InterIm understands the reason some in the neighborhood want this technology. Neighborhood safety is a major issue. We care about our community members, especially the elders, who do not feel safe outside during the evening hours. But there are many ways to make the neighborhood safer without causing the harm that these facial recognition cameras could bring. We need to bring more people outside during the evening hours, replicate and expand the work that Donnie Chin did, improve lighting throughout the neighborhood, and advocate for policies and resources that would improve public safety in the CID. Cameras could be a part of this effort. However facial recognition should not be. Just as our value of social justice and equity bring us to advocate for and alongside our neighborhood, our values also lead us to oppose facial recognition technology. We hope you will join us to work for equity and social justice in this neighborhood, that is our birthplace, home and heart.

For anybody interested in our advocacy, or anything else InterIm CDA does, please email

This content was sponsorsed by InterIm CDA.

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